Sickness pay

Managing employee paid sick leave and policies

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Monday, Apr 08, 2024

As an employer, dealing with employee sick leave can be frustrating. You have a business to run, and when employees call in sick, it disrupts your operations and impacts productivity. At the same time, you want to show compassion for your team.

It's a tricky balance, but with the right paid sick leave policies and approach, you can manage sick leave and still maintain high morale.

In this article, we'll walk you through the key steps to handling employee sick leave and paid sick days in a fair, legal, and caring way.

We'll explore paid sick leave policies, unpaid leave, following proper procedures, and making tough decisions when needed.

Running a business is hard enough without having to worry excessively about sick leave, so our goal is to provide you practical advice and helpful resources to make this aspect of your job easier.

A sick person on the sofa with a blanket

Understanding the law for paid sick leave

As an employer, it's important to understand your legal obligations for employee sick leave. In the UK, the law requires you to provide paid sick leave to your employees—including part time employees with statutory sick pay (SSP), only if they meet the criteria for eligibility.

What is the eligibility for statutory sick pay?

Determining whether an employee on sick leave qualifies for statutory sick pay involves several factors:

Employment status: Your employee must be under a genuine employment contract to receive statutory sick pay. This includes everyone who works in the public sector and private industry workers. However, this excludes self-employed individuals or casual workers.

Earnings threshold: To be eligible for statutory sick pay, your employee should earn an average of at least £123 per week. It's important to note that the average amount your employee must earn in wages to be eligible for paid leave can change.

Duration of sick days: Your employee needs to be off work for at least four consecutive days, including non-working days. The first three days are known as "waiting days".

How much paid sick leave are employees entitled to?

If your employees meet the requirements for Statutory Sick Pay, they're entitled to £116.75 per week for up to 28 weeks.

As statutory sick pay starts from the fourth consecutive day of sickness, the first three days are regarded as unpaid sick leave.

However, they're entitled to pay for the first three days if:

  • They have received statutory sick pay within the last 8 weeks, which included the three-day waiting period

While you can choose to be more generous and provide additional paid sick time adhering to the statutory sick pay framework is required by law.

A person lying on the sofa looking ill with a cup of tea

Does an employee have to request sick leave?

When your employee falls ill, they don't need to request the time off they're only obligated to inform you that they're unable to attend work.

You may establish your own time frame for this—for example, one hour before they're scheduled to work—within your sick leave policy, so employees are aware and can follow them accordingly.

However, if a time frame is not set, they must inform you of their absence within seven days.

When can I request a doctor's note?

If your employee’s paid sick days extend beyond seven days, they’re required to provide you with a medical certificate, commonly referred to as a “fit note or doctor’s note”.

This note is issued by a medical professional and outlines the employee's fitness for work and the expected duration of the illness. The note assists both employers and employees in understanding the appropriate course of action.

Can employees accrue sick time?

Your employees don’t have a legal entitlement to accrued sick leave, meaning they are unable to accrue unused sick time.

However, you may provide company sick pay as part of their sick leave policy, which may increase based on their length of service.

How to stay compliant with paid sick leave

Ensuring compliance with paid sick leave is not just a moral obligation; it also has legal implications. Failure to provide statutory sick pay or breaching the law can result in penalties, legal disputes, and reputational damage.

BrightHR offers a direct line to employment law specialists who are available 24/7 to help you maintain compliance.

Staying informed and implementing a paid sick leave policy, safeguards both your employees' well-being and your business's reputation.

A man visibly ill getting sick pay

Offer paid sick leave in a policy

To support your staff and avoid issues, it’s important to have a well-defined paid sick leave policy in place.

As an employer, you need to decide if you are going to offer more than statutory sick pay and if so, how much paid sick time will you provide and how much you will pay employees who are on sick leave.

You should consider your company culture and industry standards and think about how this can affect your employees' morale and productivity.

Key things to include in your sick leave policy:

  • Determine if you are going to pay your employees their full wage, half pay or other pay arrangements for a fixed period of absence

  • Decide when you require employees to provide a fit note (if before seven days of illness)

  • Establish a time frame that your staff must inform you that they're ill

  • Outline if paid sick time can be used for a sick family member, dependants, or sick child

Lay out your policy details in your employee handbook and employment contracts. And remember to review and consistently apply the policy to avoid discrimination or other legal claims.

Through open communication, you can support your team members when sickness strikes.

Tracking sick days

To effectively manage staff sickness absence, you need to implement a proper tracking and monitoring system. By using HR software to log sick days, you can easily identify any patterns in the timing or duration and determine if policy abuse may be occurring.

Use an attendance tracker

BrightHR’s smart online attendance software makes managing your staff's sick time simple. It’s quick and easy to record who’s off and why, and you can even log lateness, too.

Record keeping

Maintaining accurate records of sick leave is essential. You should document dates of sickness, statutory sick pay payments, and fit notes. These records show compliance and serve as a reference point in case of audits or disputes.

Look for patterns of frequent absences to identify issues, and support employees with long-term medical problems.

A women at the doctors getting a sick note so she can go on paid sick leave

Managing frequent or long-term sick leave

Sometimes an employee might have a serious health condition, employees have frequent or long-term sick leave, it requires careful management. As an employer, you need to support your staff during illness or injury while also ensuring work continues efficiently.

Meet with the employee during sick leave

By planning a meeting to discuss your employee's health, return date, and ways to support them will benefit them and you. It's important to:

  • Take notes and provide a summary of the discussion along with any next steps

  • Use open-ended questions to identify the problem and any workplace factors that affect their health

  • Explore opportunities to enhance their work environment or job role to aid their return

Monitor sick leave

By monitoring long-term or frequent short-term sick leave you can assess whether you need employees covered or other issues that may arise.

Plan coverage for sick leave

For extended sick days, you'll need to ensure critical work is still completed on paid time. You can do this by:

  • Cross-training employees on different roles so others can fill in when needed

  • Documenting all processes and responsibilities to make it easy for covering staff to get up to speed

  • Considering hiring temporary or part-time help for the duration of the absence if the workload demands it

Maintain contact and support

When an employee is on long-term sick leave, it's important to regularly check in on them, provide company updates, and confirm their expected return date.

It's essential to show support for their recovery and return to work, while also adhering to the company's absence policy if the leave extends beyond a reasonable period of time with no end in sight.

With proactive management, you can balance employee wellbeing with business productivity.

The key is open communication, detailed documentation, temporary coverage plans, and monitoring systems to gain insight into the true nature of frequent or extended sick leave.

Preventing paid sick leave abuse

Sometimes an employee can abuse sick time. So, to prevent your employees from abusing sick leave policies, you need to take proactive steps as an employer.

Step 1 - Clearly communicate your policy

Ensure that your staff is aware of the policy, including the number of sick days allowed and the need for fit notes. Also, discuss the consequences of policy violations and encourage an open-door policy for any questions or concerns.

Step 2 - Offer a wellness program

Provide a wellness program—for example BrightWellbeing — and checkups to detect health problems early and prevent long-term absences, reducing leave abuse.

Step 3 - Require documentation

For extended absences over seven days, such leave requires a fit note from a medical professional. However, requiring documentation for shorter absences could reduce leave abuse.

Just remember to be sensitive when requesting details about their health condition.

Step 4 - Monitor patterns

Watch for patterns in individuals that may indicate abuse like:

  • Frequently taking sick days on Mondays or Fridays

  • Calling in sick during ideal weather conditions or around holidays

  • Rarely providing fit notes or details about the illness

  • An unusual increase in sick days from previous years

When addressing suspicious patterns with an employee, have a respectful conversation. Reinforce policies and express a desire to support their well-being and work-life balance, while warning that further issues may result in disciplinary action.

With the right combination of communication, programs, requirements, and oversight, you can establish an environment where employees feel supported in taking needed time off for health reasons but discouraged from improperly taking advantage of your goodwill and policies.

The effort to prevent abuse of sick leave policies leads to a more positive, productive workplace for all.

Employees taking part in a wellness program to try and reduce the amount of sick days in the office

Managing sick leave and paid sick leave with BrightHR

Understanding sick pay rules in the UK is important for responsible and caring employers.

Eligibility criteria, rates, communication protocols, and record-keeping practices all contribute to a supportive workplace culture. Complying with these rules builds trust and respect with employees.

And with BrightHR supporting you, it’s easy to manage your staff's sick leave and pay. With our time-saving HR software, you can:

  • Track and monitor attendance easily with our absence management software

  • Keep accurate records with unlimited secure cloud-based storage and download reports

  • Get instant advice with BrightLightning for reliable and accurate HR advice to maintain compliance

But that's not all, book your free demo today and find out how BrightHR can transform your people management.

So, stay informed, stay compliant, and continue fostering a workplace where your employees' wellbeing is at the forefront.

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