Sickness Leave

Missing work due to illness

Any employee who feels unable to work due to sickness or illness should in the first instance follow the employer's procedure for sickness absence. If there is no procedure in place we would suggest that employees follow the guidelines below to ensure that they are dealing with the situation as advised and not being treated unfairly by their employer.

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.

These rules may vary from employer to employer. They should be set out in your contract so that you know ahead of time what is expected of you.

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 employee 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 employee 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 of company sick pay 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 best advised to initiate a return to work chat, acting as an informal assessment, once the employee has returned to the workplace, with the goal of:

  • welcoming the employee back to the workplace
  • assessing the fitness of the employee and the appropriateness of their return to work
  • informing the employee of any news or progress made while they were away
  • determining the reason and/or cause of absence
  • talking about any support that could be provided by the employer in relation to the employee's return to work
  • discussing whether the sickness is work or duty related and if so addressing an alternative working solution

Monitoring sickness

Employers often keep a record of sickness. This record can include the number or sick days taken, the reason for the absence and detail of when in the day/week/month sickness is taken. This type of standard sickness record would normally be held in your personnel file, and should be available through your employer's Human Resources department.

Long-term sickness leave

In the event that an employee is suffering from a long term illness, a responsible employer should:

  • regularly check in with the employee, 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. If the employee should become disabled due to their illness, ‘reasonable adjustments’ can be expected in their working environment that may allow them to continue in their role with some modification of their surroundings or workload.

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 should however only consider this as a last alternative after considering:

  • part-time or flexible hours
  • the extent of the employee’s estimated recovery
  • whether assistance would be required in carrying out duties
  • a lighter workload with fewer responsibilities, in addition to any re-training required

Holidays and sickness

Even when off sick, employees accrue holiday entitlement as though they were working. If an employee would lose out on any leave to which they are statutorily entitled because they are off sick during the last period in which they could have taken it, this should roll over to the next holiday year.

If an employee is not entitled to sick pay, or if they wish to do so for any other reason, they may take a period of sickness as holiday instead. The opposite is also true, in a sense – falling ill immediately before or during a holiday allows an employee to instead take that holiday as sick leave, and are entitled to take the intended period of holiday at a different time.

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 telephone legal advice at affordable rates.

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