How Many Sick Days Per Year are Acceptable in the UK?

By April Harrington.
11 Sep 2020

An employee taking a sick day is a disruption to your business, even if it’s legitimate. Where the absence is genuine, you should be as accommodating as possible. This will keep employee morale high and establish trust between you and the employee.

However, continuous sick leave or odd days taken too frequently can show a pattern of undesirable behaviour. When is this not acceptable and what should your approach be?

We look to answer those questions in this article.

What is the average number of sick days per year?

First, let’s take a look at the current state of sickness absence. According to the latest sickness absence data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the average number of sick days per year is 4.4.

How much time off sick is too much?

The first thing you need to be aware of is this: you are free to set your own threshold for too much sickness absence.

Employers will no doubt differ in opinion, and set their own sickness absence rate. However, there is no legal definition of how many sick days is too many in the UK.

With this in mind, you need to find a balance between being too lenient and too severe when dealing with sick employees.

What is an acceptable number of sick days?

We now know that there is no legal upper limit to the number of sick days employees can take. But how many days sick leave a year in the UK is acceptable?

There are many ways to determine an admissible amount of absence. You can base it on the average sickness rate in the UK (4.4). Or, you can base it on the average in your sector. It may be that you already record sick leave data, and therefore will be able to set your own average.

There is a methodology which looks at the effect of absences in the workplace called The Bradford Factor. The Bradford factor is calculated using the Bradford Formula S2 x D = B

  • S is the total number of separate absences by an individual
  • D is the total number of days of absence of that individual
  • B is the Bradford Factor score

The Bradford Factor allows managers to monitor absenteeism during any set period. Many companies identify a running year as an acceptable period. If the number falls within a certain range, it is worth exploring the reasons behind the absences.

We would recommend recording absence dates and the reason for absence. Conduct return to work interviews to collect this data. This method also works as a deterrent for unauthorised absence.

So, when you’re considering how many sick days per year is acceptable in your organisation, keep these methods of determining it in mind.

How many sick days are you allowed in a year UK

There is no legal limit on how many sick days per year UK employees can take. However, there are rules on when staff are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

You must pay SSP from the fourth day the employee is off sick unless the employee tests positive for coronavirus or is told to self-isolate, in which case it is day one. Once you start paying this, you must continue to pay it for up to 28 weeks of absence, as per the UK sickness policy.

If employees are off work for a significant amount of time, you may begin to consider a capability dismissal. There is no set limit on how many sick days a year UK employees can take before this becomes an option. However, if they’ve been absent for more than a month, it’s normal to invite them to an absence review meeting. This meeting doesn’t have to be face to face.

Here, you can discuss a phased return to work or temporary changes. It’s recommended you hold several of these meetings before considering a capability dismissal. It may be possible to agree an alteration to an employment contract and consider a part-time return with a pro-rata salary.

What’s the cause of 4.4 average sick days in the UK?

That figure is the number of days lost per worker, per year on average during a normal working year. That may not sound like very much—the number is down from previous years. But let’s look at this another way as there are other ways to measure sickness absence.

For example, we could measure the average number of sick days per year in the UK as the total days lost. This number gives us a better indicator as to how disruptive sickness absence can be. In this case, the latest ONS statistics tell us that an average of 141 days were lost last year.

Another useful approach is to assess what is causing these absences. Usually, the top reason given when employees take sick leave is ‘minor illness’. This term captures everything from coughs and colds to sickness and diarrhoea. The average number of ‘minor illness’ sick days in the UK is 38.5. That means, on average, 38 days are lost per business, every year, to colds and flu.

Next on the list are musculoskeletal problems. This includes anything from back and neck pain to more serious disorders. The average number of sick days taken for this reason currently stands at 27.8. This means, coupled with minor illnesses, these two issues are responsible for over two months of absence.

The final reason for absence we’ll look at is mental health. This issue has become more of a focus for businesses over the last decade. As a result, employees are more willing to be open about their mental health issues. As it stands, the average number of sick days in the UK relating to mental health conditions is 17.5. While this is lower than the other two reasons, it remains one of the leading reasons for sickness absence rates in the country.

Now that we have a better understanding of why people take time off, and what impact this has on businesses, let’s look at how we can address the issues.

What are the calling in sick to work laws in the UK?

Your employees will call in sick from time to time. Unfortunately, sick leave is often more complicated than expecting employees to return as soon as possible.

If your employee is away for longer than a week, you are allowed to expect a doctor’s note to support their claims. You should make this clear in your sick note rules.

You can also ask anyone with an absence for fewer than seven days to fill out a self-certification form. This is filled out in person on their return, to try to ensure it wasn’t used for personal days.

There is also the requirement to pay SSP to employees after 4 days of sickness.

To reiterate, calling in sick-to-work laws don’t dictate how many days sick leave a year employee can take in the UK.

Statutory holiday entitlement is built up (accrued) while an employee is off work sick (no matter how long they’re off). If an employee is ill just before or during their holiday, they can take it as sick leave instead.

An employee can ask to take their paid holiday for the time they’re off work sick. They might do this if they do not qualify for sick pay.

If you dismiss an employee whilst they’re in receipt of SSP, you must provide a SSP1 form which explains why you are no longer paying SSP. If the employee feels like they have been dismissed because they are ill or in receipt of SSP, they may be able to complain to an Employment Tribunal.

Absence management

The unpredictability of staff absence means it can be quite a challenging task. You can go to Acas for absence management support, or, you can get expert support from Croner’s HR team.

We’ll help you create a policy that works, review the policies you already have, and provide 24/7 support.

If you want absence management support today, speak to one of our experts on 0145 585 8132.

About the Author

April Harrington.

An experienced Senior Employment Law Consultant, who has worked for the group for over 9 years. April specialises in discrimination legislation. April has an extensive background in training, as well as recruitment and hospitality.

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