Everyone experiences some level of sickness from time to time and as a result may need to take time off work. Having clear policies and being clear about how sickness absence will be managed will help you, and employees, navigate what can be a stressful time. This blog provides details on how sick pay is handled within the UK.
What is sick pay?
Statutory Sick Pay, or SSP, is pay that is given to employees when they're off sick. It's called 'statutory' as the requirement to make payments is dictated by legal statutes or laws. Statutory Sick Pay is paid;
for the days an employee normally works - which are called ‘qualifying days’
in the same way as wages, so employees will receive payments as part of their normal pay packet. Payments are subject to deductions for tax and National insurance
Who gets sick pay?
To qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) employees must:
have an employment contract and have done some work under their contract
have been sick for 4 or more days in a row (including non-working days)
earn an average of at least £123 per week (the lower-earning limit as of March 2023 more details and any updates to this amount can be found here; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rates-and-allowances-national-insurance-contributions/rates-and-allowances-national-insurance-contributions)
give you notice and proof of illness when needed
There are some exceptions to who is eligible for sick pay which you can see here; https://www.gov.uk/employers-sick-pay/eligibility-and-form-ssp1
When should sick pay be paid?
SSP is paid when the employee is sick for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days).
You cannot count a day as a sick day if an employee has worked part of the day and then has had to go home unwell.
You do not pay an employee SSP for the first 3 working days they’re off sick unless either:
the period they were away from work started before 25 March 2022 and they were off sick because of coronavirus (COVID-19)
they received SSP within the last 8 weeks, and that already included a 3-day waiting period before you paid them SSP
How much is sick pay?
Typically statutory sick pay rates increase annually every April, you can see the current sick pay rate here; https://www.gov.uk/employers-sick-pay
You can work out how much sick pay you need to pay using the Governments SSP calculator here; https://www.gov.uk/calculate-statutory-sick-pay
You can choose as a company to pay your employees more than the standard statutory rate but you cannot offer less than the statutory rate, this is know as 'Contractual or Occupational Sick Pay'. If you choose to offer your employees more than the statutory rate, make sure how this will work is clearly outlined within your contracts of employment and that you have a sickness absence policy that provides more details about how sickness will be handled in general.
Do I have to pay sick pay?
Yes, regulations around sick pay can be seen within The Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 and The Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1985.
When do employees have to tell me they'll be off sick?
The employee should tell you they’re sick within the time limit set by you. Normally you'd ask an employee to let you know they'll not be coming into work at least an hour before they would normally start working. It's important that you include what your sick pay process is within your contracts of employment and ideally within a sickness absence policy where you can outline all your rules in detail.
You do not have to pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for any days the employee was late in telling you (unless there’s a good reason for the delay). Be careful with this though, if an employee is in hospital, for example, they might struggle to get hold of you.
You can only ask for a fit note if your employee is off work for more than 7 days in a row (including non-working days). You can see more about fit notes here; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fit-note-guidance-for-employers-and-line-managers
Can I ask for proof that someone is off sick?
If someone is off sick for more than 7 days in a row you can require that they provide you with a copy of what's called a fit note. Fit notes, previously known as sick notes, can be issued by healthcare professionals and provide proof of whether or not an employee is fit to be at work. As well as being issued by doctors, in July 2022 the Government amended the law around fit notes meaning they can now also be issued by nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists. You can see more useful information on fit notes here; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fit-note-guidance-for-employers-and-line-managers/getting-the-most-out-of-the-fit-note-guidance-for-employers-and-line-managers
You cannot insist an employee tells you in person about their sickness or on a special form but you can have a process whereby for less than 7 days of absence your employees have to self-certify their absence.
Remember that not all absences will have symptoms you can see and every person might experience sickness in slightly different ways. Just because you reacted a certain way to having a bug or a virus doesn't mean others will so try to give people the benefit of the doubt, where it's reasonable to do so.
Do employees still accrue annual leave whilst they are on sick leave?
The short answer is yes.
What else is it important to know about sick leave?
It's also important to note that employers cannot force employees to take annual leave when they are off sick and that employees can carry over to the next year any statutory holiday that they have missed due to sickness absence. Employers might also need to make what's called 'reasonable adjustments' or changes in the workplace to facilitate someone's return to work, you can see more about reasonable adjustments here; https://www.gov.uk/reasonable-adjustments-for-disabled-workers
You can see more about statutory sick pay on the Governments website here
You can see more about statutory sick pay on the Governments website here; https://www.gov.uk/employers-sick-pay
There's further information on the ACAS website here; https://www.acas.org.uk/checking-sick-pay
And from Citizens Advice here; https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/sick-leave-and-sick-pay/check-if-you-can-get-sick-pay/
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All information within the post is provided for guidance only; always seek your own legal advice.
The information with this post was correct at the time of publishing, March 2023 but may be subject to change.