Missing work due to illness
Any employee who feels unable to work due to sickness or illness should follow the guidelines below.
Informing your manager of sickness absence
Under normal protocol, in the event that an employee is absent from work, the manager should be contacted within an hour of the employee's usual start time, although often contracts specify an hour prior to the beginning of the shift. The employee is required to state the reason of absence, and to give an expected ‘return to work’ date.
Explaining your illness to your employer
In the event that you have been absent from work due to sickness for seven days or less, the employer can ask you to self-certify your illness by completing a form. It is common for an employer to have a self-certification form of their own. As an alternative to this form, an employer may use an Employee's Statement of Sickness form.
When an employee has been off work sick for a period in excess of seven days, they will need to get an official Statement of Fitness to Work ('fit note') from a GP or the doctor that treated them.
The attainment of a 'fit note' is a beneficial procedure for both the employer and employee, allowing the doctor to provide more information on the condition affecting the employee's state of work. A 'fit note' may suggest ways the employer can return to work more efficiently, in making amendments to duties or working hours for a temporary period.
The employer's discretion
An employer may reserve the right to make an exception to the 'company sick pay scheme' and pay the employer sick pay regardless of whether or not they qualify under the company rules.
Additionally many sick pay schemes state that payment is 'at the employer's discretion', meaning your employer is able to refuse payment in the instance that they think the absence is unjustified. This decision must be made after carefully considering the Equalities Act of 2010, ensuring that the decision has not been influenced by any discrimination or prejudice.
An employer is not obligated to pay discretionary sick pay in the event that they have paid it in the past, though it is possible for a discretionary arrangement to become part of a contract through 'custom and practice'. To find out more about sick pay, please visit our Pay section.
Returning to work after sickness leave
Employers are required to initiate a return to work chat, acting as an informal assessment, with the aim to:
- welcome the employer back to the workplace
- assess the fitness of the employee and the appropriateness of their return to work
- inform the employee of any news or progress made while they were away
- determine the reason and/or cause of absence
- talk about any support that could be provided by the employer in relation to the employee's return to work
- discuss whether the sickness is work or duty related and if so address an alternative working solution
Employers often keep a record of sickness. This record can include the number or sick days taken and when in the day/week/month sickness is taken. The details of standard sickness records would be held in your company policy, and should be available through Human Resources - if not, they should appear in your contract of employment.
Long-term sickness leave
In the event that an employee is suffering from a long term illness, an employer is required to:
- regularly check in with the employer, whether verbally or written
- make sure that the contractual sick pay arrangements are clear
- facilitate a return to work interview
The employer may wish to talk about a change in work and working arrangements, as well as the length of time that the role can be left open for.
When returning to work, employers should put in place a 'getting back to work' programme. Such a programme should involve:
- the offering of more flexible hours, through either shorter days and/or remote working
- a catch-up on any news and work-related progress
- the delivery of training on any new software, equipment or new processes/procedures
Losing your job while on long-term sickness leave
Employees can be dismissed while on long term sickness. Employers may only consider this as a last alternative after considering:
- part-time or flexible hours
- the extent of the employees estimated recovery
- whether assistance would be required in carrying out duties
- a lighter workload with fewer responsibilities, in addition to any re-training required
If an employee believes that they have been the victim of an unfair dismissal as a consequence of long-term sickness, they may take their case to an employment tribunal. Before taking your case to tribunal, you should consider checking out our Instant Law Line service, which offers unlimited telephone legal advice for only £7.99 a month.
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