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Sickness Absence: Employers Questions Answered

Published on 22 September 2020 | Modified on 13 December 2023

Written by Stacey Bennett

Why is it beneficial for an employer to have a Sickness Absence Policy in place?

A well drafted Sickness Absence Policy enables an employer to specify the process and rules to follow then an employee must follow when they are not fit for work.  A Sickness Absence Policy should ensure that employee absence is managed in a consistent and supportive way.

What should a Sickness Absence Policy contain?

All information relating to an employee’s incapacity and sickness absence i.e. any reporting procedures and self-certification, requirements relating to evidence of incapacity or illness, what is expected from an employee whilst they are off work and any details pertinent to sick pay (statutory and company sick pay, if offered).

An employer can also include procedures for monitoring absences which will in turn enable them to identify any problems in the workforce. For example, if the findings show that absence is an issue in a particular shop on Wednesdays and this coincidentally lines up with the managers weekly rotation to another shop, this issue can be addressed immediately.

It is also strongly recommended that employers and employees carry out Return to Work meetings and complete the relevant paperwork – the Sickness Absence Policy can provide details of this. There is evidence to suggest that having these meetings may reduce short term absence and in any event this is recommended as good practice by ACAS. The policy can stipulate when they should be conducted i.e. whether this be for absences longer than 3 days or for all absences irrespective of the number of days absent. These meetings do not need to be very formal or lengthy.

These quick interviews with staff on their return to work from sickness absence may also demonstrate that you have done what is reasonably expected of you as an employer. It may assist in demonstrating that you have not discriminated against an employee with a disability. For example, if you are asking an employee the reason for their absence and whether you can do anything to assist and support them, their continuous refusal of a return to work interview (which will be documented) may mean that it is much less likely they will be able to subsequently claim that you have failed to make reasonable adjustments and as such discriminated against them on the grounds of disability.

Who Qualifies for Statutory Sick Pay?

In order to qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP) an employee must be absent from work due to incapacity. An employee, if eligible, can get £95.85 per week if they’re too ill to work (rate as at the time of writing). This will be paid by the employer for up to 28 weeks.

Eligibility for SSP can be included in the policy as a forum to advise employees. The benefit of this being a non-contractual policy is that it can easily be updated by an employer, where for example, the rate of pay is updated by government.

The current criteria for eligibility for SSP is:

  • The individual must fall within the ‘employee’ status and be working for the employer
  • The illness must last for longer than 4 days in a row. (The first 3 days are ‘waiting days’)
  • The employee must earn at least £120 per week
  • The employer must be notified in accordance with the sick pay policy – or within 7 days if there isn’t one

Is Contractual Sick Pay a Legal Requirement?

Whilst there is no legal entitlement to contractual sick pay (also known as company sick pay) it is not uncommon for an employee to provide for this – this has the effect of topping up statutory sick pay to the agreed rate of pay. Details can be incorporated into an employee’s contract of employment or a company’s sick pay policy.

Statutory Sick Pay changes during COVID-19

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has led to a series of changes to the SSP regime, these include:

  • Removal of the need for any waiting days in COVID-19 case so that SSP is payable from day 1 – as opposed to day 4 ordinarily
  • Recovery from HMRC of up to two weeks’ SSP per employee paid by small and medium employers (i.e. those with less than 250 employees) in COVID-19 cases
  • Extending the circumstances in which an employee may be deemed incapable of work (and therefore entitled to SSP) for example when
    • Shielding and therefore unable to work (NB: shielding has currently been paused for most of those who are clinically extremely vulnerable however, we are expecting the government to continually review this)
    • Self-isolating for one of the following reasons and therefore unable to work:
      • Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (or living with someone who is)
      • Been advised to do so through test and trace
      • Tested positive for COVID-19 (or living with someone who has)
      • Where advised to do so for a period of up to 14 days before an admission date to hospital for surgery or another hospital procedure


If you have any questions about the above or if you need to speak with a member of our specialist employment department then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

It may also be helpful for you to know that we offer HR-Assist. This will include your tailored contracts, bespoke policies and any guidance and support for all of your businesses HR needs.





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