Sick leave in the UK

What is sick leave?

Even with COVID-19 still at the forefront of many people’s minds, it is important to remember that your staff can still fall ill from other illnesses or have accidents. Sick leave in the UK can be complicated, so this article will guide you through what you need to know about it as an employer.   If your employee is too ill to work, then they can receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Your employee must firstly have had seven sick days in a row, but they must also fulfil the following criteria:

  • The employee has already started working for you;
  • They earn on average at least £120 per week before tax;
  • They have been following your company’s rules for getting sick pay.

According to the 2020 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report, the top causes of sick leave in the UK are mental health, stress and illnesses such as stomach upset and flu. The CIPD recommends that your overall aim should be to successfully prevent absence through well-being, for example by:

  • Conducting stress risk audits;
  • Monitoring workloads;
  • Encouraging healthy lifestyles;
  • Providing managers with well-being training.
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Different types of sick leave

Long-term sick leave

An employee that is on sick leave for longer than four weeks is classified as ‘long-term sick’. You should first discuss with the employee whether they can return to work, and whether they think their health will improve. After a long absence, your employee may want to discuss any reasonable adjustments to their working environment, such as:

  • Wheelchair accessibility;
  • Different tasks;
  • Equipment adapted to their needs;
  • Home working;
  • Flexible working;
  • Job sharing.

Leave for dependents

You are legally obliged to allow employees ‘compassionate leave’ in case of emergencies involving their dependents. Exercise compassion for your employee’s individual circumstances, and provide two to five days of compassionate leave. Compassionate leave can be planned, such as in the case of an employee attending a funeral, or unplanned, such as supporting a child who has had an accident at school. By law, a dependent includes:

  • The employee’s parents;
  • Their spouse / civil partner;
  • Their children; 
  • Relatives; 
  • Unmarried partners;
  • Anyone who lives in their house as family but is not a lodger or tenant.  

Unlike with sick leave entitlements, there is no law that states that you have to pay your employees for compassionate leave time, and it is down to you to decide whether to pay for a set number of paid compassionate leave days each year. As an employer, you are not legally obliged to give compassionate leave for the following examples:

  • Home emergencies such as flooding;
  • Relationship issues;
  • Pet illness;
  • Taking a dependent to an arranged appointment.

COVID-19 related leave

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some members of staff will need to self-isolate, in which case they can ask for an ‘isolation note’ from the NHS 111 website. In this case, they still have sick leave entitlements; if your employee cannot work while isolating, e.g. by working from home, then they must receive SSP during this period.

How much sick leave are employees entitled to?

Employees are entitled to 28 sick days. After this point, you have to discuss with your employee the next steps for their return to work. If your employee’s sick leave coincides just before or after their holiday period, then this time can be taken as sick leave. This means that statutory holiday entitlement is accrued when they are off sick, and can claim this holiday time back at a different point of the year.

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