Sick Leave Entitlement in the UK

By Fiona Burns
06 Aug 2020

Managing sickness absence across your workforce is a difficult and time-consuming task. It’s also an inevitability in the modern business world—and a major part of employment law.

So, you should prepare for staff taking statutory sick leave in the UK with a thorough and fair process. You should also inform your staff members what this is.

And in this guide, we’ll take you through the requirements for your business. Which includes a consideration on the coronavirus pandemic—and how your business can respond.

What’s your employees’ sick leave entitlement?

In the UK, it’s a staff member’s right to take sick leave if they’re ill. UK sick leave law legislation is under Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

The paid sick leave for this is £95.85 per week. And how long can you be on sick leave? Well, staff can claim 28 weeks’ worth a year if they call in sick.

The sick leave reasons are many and varied. It could be due to:

  • An accident or injury.
  • Sudden sicknesses (such as the flu)
  • Long-term illnesses.

So, can an employer ask for a reason for sick leave? Yes. Staff must provide you with proof of their sickness—that’s if they’re off ill for over seven days.

To do this, they can provide you with a fit note (“sick note”).

Staff can obtain this from their GP or at a hospital. They’re free to get if the employee is off ill for seven days or more.

From your perspective, the note will inform you whether the individual is fit to work or not.

If the note says they “may” be fit to work, you should speak to your employee and discuss any reasonable changes you can make to your working environment.

This should aim to make the employee’s return to work more comfortable, or enable them to complete their role properly.

If they have been advised to self isolate and stay home because of coronavirus, they can provide you with a note from the NHS.

But what happens when sick leave runs out? You must respect your employee’s contract of employment, so you can look for alternative routes to take. Such as using annual leave days, or offering unpaid leave.

You may also wonder, “Is it illegal to work while on sick leave?” Yes, staff aren’t allowed to complete any work while they’re signed off sick.

Can an employee be dismissed while on sick leave?

Yes, you can dismiss staff while they’re away due to sickness. However, as with all dismissal processes, you must provide a strong business reason to do so.

For example, if you have to:

  • Close due to financial difficulties.
  • Make redundancies.

It’s essential to follow a fair process for any of the above—you’ll need to provide a genuine reason for ending an employee’s contract of employment.

You would need to conduct a full capability procedure - this means having meetings with the claimant to discuss all options. To dismiss, it will need to be clearly demonstrated that all options have been considered over the employee's return to work.

If you don’t, it could result in a claim for unfair dismissal.

Requesting self-certification from employees

Staff can also self-certify. If they’re off for seven days or less, they don’t need to hand over a sick note.

And once they return to work, you can ask them to provide an explanation for their absence. They can fill out a self-certification form to do this.

How sick leave works for staff holidays

A common question here is, “Does annual leave accrue on sick leave?” Yes, employees build up (“accrue”) holiday entitlement if they’re off ill.

And that’s irrespective of how long they’re off from work.

But does sick leave count as annual leave? No, it’s sick leave. You can’t cross over the two types of leave.

Going on holiday while on sick leave

Although this sounds like it’ll break your company protocol, if your employee is ill, but physically able to take annual leave, then they can do so.

However, they’ll have to request this from you in their normal process. And you don’t have to agree.

But if the employee is sick on annual leave, then they can take this as sick leave. That’s also the case if they’re about to go on holiday.

Claiming back annual leave if sick

Currently, the law allows an employee or worker who falls sick whilst on annual leave to convert the annual holiday leave to sick leave and take the holiday at a later date.

Employees job hunting during illness

Getting a new job while on sick leave is possible for employees to do, legally they can continue to find new opportunities while they’re away.

For instance, they may be off with mental health issues and decide to take a less stressful new role with a new business. 

However, they must update you with the normal written letter of notice for any updates in to their employment situation.

What is unpaid sick leave?

This is where an employee takes time off work ill, but doesn’t receive any statutory sick pay (SSP).

It can come about due to long term sick leave. If an employee has a serious illness, for example, then they can spend an extended period of time away from your business.

Sick leave during coronavirus

If an employee self-isolates, they must receive SSP that’s due to them. That’s from the first day they’re absent, to the end. Usually SSP is from day four.

And this will be due to the following reasons. If:

  • They have coronavirus.
  • They have symptoms. (a high temperature, coughing or a change in taste or smell)
  • An individual in their household has symptoms (or the virus).
  • They’re shielding due to an underlying illness.
  • A doctor told them to self-isolate
  • They have been contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service

As part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, you can place employees on furlough until the end of October 2020—that’ ifs you enrolled them into the Scheme prior to July 2020.

But is it illegal to work while on furlough? It was, but the new flexible furlough scheme means your staff can now work certain shifts as and when they need to.

So, staff can work part-time, but for the rest of the time in which they are considered as on a period of furlough, they must not work.

This means they must have previously been furloughed for at least 3 consecutive weeks taking place any time between 1 March and 30 June 2020.

For the minimum 3 consecutive week period to be completed by 30 June, the last day an employee could have started furlough for the first time was 10 June.

Can employers claim back sick pay during coronavirus?

Yes, you claim back SSP paid to employees during COVID-19. You can do this through the Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme. You can make a claim through the online system to receive the money back.

You’re eligible for up to two weeks SSP employer rebate if you meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You have paid for the member of staff’s SSP.
  • You’re claiming for an employee who’s eligible for sick pay as a result of the pandemic.
  • You use a PAYE payroll scheme. And it was in use on, or before, 29th February 2020.
  • You had fewer than 250 employees on 28th February 2020.

The Scheme covers staff on all types of employment contracts. And they don’t need to supply you with a fit note.

Expert advice

If you need guidance with any sick leave related topics, get in touch for support: 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.


Fiona Burns

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