Health Assured team

16 December 2021

It’s inevitable that employees will take days off from work due to sickness.

Whether it’s a small bug or a broken limb, employees might request sick leave to recover from their illness.

During this time, it’s important for employers to support their employees. Businesses can offer sick pay, make work adjustments, and allow access for returning to work.

If you mismanage your employees’ legal entitlements whilst they’re on sick leave, you could face more than effects to your business output.

Read about the rules on sick leave, managing sickness absences, and the difference between short- and long-term sick leave in UK law.

What is sick leave?

Sick leave is referred to when an employee takes time off work due to sickness or injury. The health-related issues can be a physical or mental illness–or both.

Sick employees might not be able to work for a short or long period of time. Whilst employees are away, they are still entitled to their rights, like duty of care or legal payments.

How many days sick leave a year in the UK is acceptable?

There is no legislation for sick leave allowed per year. But how much sick leave per year is acceptable?

Recent reports from The Office of National Statistics found employees took an average of 5.8 sick days per year.

Employers should outline what is an acceptable number according to their business. In physical labour-based jobs, sick leave might be higher due to increased injuries and accidents. So, here it makes sense to have a higher number of acceptable sick leave days.

Statutory sick leave pay

Whilst there isn’t a set number of days for sick leave in UK law, there are rules for statutory sick pay or SSP.

You must pay SSP from the fourth day of the employee’s sick leave. The legal amount of statutory sick leave pay is £96.35 per week. This should be paid for up to 28 weeks of absence.

For Covid-relate sickness, employee receive SSP from the first day of sick leave. But this only stands if a Period of Incapacity to Work (PIW) is formed.

Short term vs long term sick leave

In some situations, it’s best to check in on employees who are on sick leave. They could be facing health problems and may need support on how to get better.

Illnesses can be physical, like muscle injuries, or mental, like depression. Whichever it may be, remember you have a duty of care for your employees’ health and wellbeing.

Long-term sick leave

If an employee is absent for longer than a week, you should ask them for a Statement of Fitness for Work. These are also known as sick or fit notes.

Employees on long-term sick leave can get a note from their GP or a certified health professional. The notes generally have information on the illness and how long recovery might take.

If their absence relates to a long-term medical condition, try to make reasonable adjustments to their work tasks. For example, you should make changes for employees with disabilities, so they’re supported if they are on sick leave.

Short-term sick leave

Employees on short-term or intermittent sick leave can still relate to a medical condition. So, it’s a good idea to find out why they are taking repeated time off. Understand their state and see if you can offer any help or changes to support them.

But, if you think an employee is misusing sick leave rights, you should reassess your workplace policy and procedures.

How to manage employees sick leave?

Employees falling sick is an evitable thing for anyone who hires a workforce. The most important thing to do is manage their leave whilst minimising effects to your business.

Here are steps to take to manage absences and support ill employees.

Create a clear sick leave policy

All companies should have a sick leave policy in place. Your employees should understand and acknowledge your rules when they are sick.

Under the Employment Rights Act (1996), you must present sick leave rules to your staff, and they should know the process to follow if they can’t work.

A sick leave policy can include:

• How to request a sick leave of absence.
• Who to contact if unfit to work.
• Proof of illness.
• Employer rights to medical records (with the employee’s consent).
• Statutory sick pay and other sick leave benefits.
• Reasonable adjustments to work practices.
• Dismissal procedures when applicable.

Present the process for requesting sick leave

From their first day, your staff should be taught how to request leave due to illness or injuries.

Businesses should have an absence reporting number that sick employees can call. Others might have an electronic confirmation app for reporting leave. Sick leave absence requires evidence, which employees must provide when they return to work.

If the absence is less than a week, a self-certification is acceptable. (This is when an employee themselves confirm their medical state and provide a health form before returning to work).

If the absence is a week or longer, you should ask them to provide a doctor’s note or a Statement of Fitness to Work.

Keeping sickness records can help you support ill employees. But it can also help determine if further action might be needed, like attendance reviewing or reassigning tasks.

Decide on your sick leave entitlements

Many businesses will have their own idea for what number of sick days is acceptable. This is for paid and unpaid leave.

Your policy should include your sick leave entitlements, especially for when employees go beyond the numbers.

Sometimes, employees might choose to use their holiday leave days to cover further sick leave.

But some employers might set a limit for unpaid sick days which staff can used after their normal sick leave entitlements.

Whichever way you build it, make sure your policy includes all sick pay terms; and that your staff have access to them.

Offering support during their sick leave

Whether your ill employee is on short- or long-term leave, you should aim to maintain contact with them.

Offering support can strengthen your working relations with them. But more importantly, they will feel supported and understand the steps to take whilst they’re off.

When employees are feeling better, you should hold return to work interviews. Use this time to fully understand your employee’s health situation and whether you need to provide additional support before starting work again.

In cases where absences prove to be false, you should issue a warning and follow it with the proper disciplinary process.

Preventing absences in your business

Absences and sick leave will always happen in the workplace. But continuous absences can affect your business–daily and in the long term.

You can prevent absences from becoming excessive and unaccountable by:

• Having a clear sick leave policy in place.
• Requesting self-certifications, medical notes, or other forms of proof.
• Providing additional support and maintaining regular contact.
• Assisting with returning to work, through interviews and meetings.

Can an employee be dismissed while on sick leave in the UK ?

If an employee fails to perform their work tasks because of sickness, they could be dismissed. This is known as a medical capability dismissal; where employees fail to complete tasks agreed to in their contract.

This type of dismissal relates to all employees, regardless of service years. with over two years’. To avoid possible claims of unfair dismissal, you must follow correct legal procedures.

Sometimes, a long-term illness could relate to a disability. Here, you must create reasonable adjustments so they can continue working. Their sick leave reasons should be acknowledged; and any evidence of discrimination or unfair dismissals can lead to consequences to you and your business.

Manage employees on sick leave with Health Assured

Dealing with sick employees can prove more difficult than you might realise. But without following the legal rules, you could risk facing paying compensation fees and legal costs. You may also incur losses to your business productivity and reputation.

Our specialised team at Health Assured can help you manage employees on sick leave, and ensure you provide all legal rights from the get-go.

We provide a 24/7 employee helpline that is open 365 days a year. With guidance and support employees can quickly get back on the road to recovery.

We can also guide managers and other staff members who may not feel equipped to take on these sensitive issues.

Arrange a call back from a workplace wellbeing expert today on on 0844 891 0352

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