Sick Pay and Sickness Absence

Your contract must give you details of your entitlement to sick pay.

Note: The rules around sick pay and sickness absence have been temporarily amended during the Covid-19 pandemic. These changes are summarised at the end of this section.

Since the law changed in April, 2020, you must be given a 'written statement of employment particulars' by your first day of employment. This applies to workers and employees alike. Your employer may choose to put the details of its rules on sick pay in another document, but you must still receive this by day one (Law at Work 2020, p 291).

Your contract must tell you:

  • How much sick pay is paid.
  • How long sick pay can last.
  • Any rules your employer has for using sick pay.

There are two types of sick pay – statutory and occupational.

Statutory Sick Pay

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is the minimum you should receive. To qualify, you must:

  • Be classed as an employee and have done some work for your employer.
  • Earn an average (for 2020-21) of at least £120 per week. This is called the 'Lower Earnings Limit'.
  • Have been ill, self-isolating or 'shielding' for at least four days in a row (including non-working days).

If you pass these tests, you are entitled to SSP of £95.85 per week (2020-21) for a maximum of 28 weeks.

Ordinarily, you do not receive SSP for the first three days you are off (unless you have been paid SSP in the previous eight weeks and are eligible again – see below). These three days are called 'waiting days' and include any days when you would not be working. So, if you work weekdays, and become ill on a Sunday, for example, you could start to claim SSP on Wednesday, after your waiting days (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday). You receive SSP only for days on which you would normally work or be rostered to work.

There are circumstances in which the three waiting days do not apply. If you are ill again within eight weeks of your first absence, and both absences last four days or more, then you are not required to observe the waiting days.

The waiting days rule has been suspended for sickness absence and self-isolation resulting from Covid-19.

You must let your employer know you are sick in order to claim SSP. Employers usually ask employees to notify them early on the first day of absence. For the first seven days, you are allowed to 'self-certify'. This means you fill in a form provided by your employer, stating when you were off sick and the nature of your illness. After this period, your employer may ask you to provide a medical certificate (known as a 'Statement of Fitness for Work' or 'Fit Note') from your GP before paying you SSP.

If you experience long-term sickness, or take a series of short-term absences, your employer may ask for your consent to seek a medical opinion from your GP or an occupational health (OH) specialist.

The TUC-backed job advice app, WorkSmart, says:

'It is sensible to cooperate with your employer's reasonable attempts to get expert advice about your medical condition. Otherwise, you risk your employer making decisions about sick pay and about your future employment without the benefit of medical input.'

Occupational sick pay

Many employers choose to pay more than SSP. You might see this referred to as 'company', 'contractual' or 'occupational' sick pay (OSP). Occupational sick pay tends to be significantly more generous than SSP where unions are recognised.

An employer can make its own rules around OSP, as long as these are clearly set out in your contract. Law at Work gives the example that you may be entitled to OSP only if you are examined by a company doctor (Law at Work 2020, p 294).

Many OSP schemes allow you to have a certain amount of time off work sick on full pay, which then drops to a certain amount of time on half-pay.

Some employers have a discretionary policy of providing sick pay in excess of SSP. Despite the lack of a rigid framework, employers must still be consistent in how they exercise their discretion, and must not victimise or discriminate (Law at Work 2020, p 295).

Sick Pay and Sickness Absence issues