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Long-Term Sickness Absence Advice for Employees

Every employee is susceptible to falling ill, and sickness – whether minor or serious – can strike any one of us at any time. After being diagnosed with a serious medical illness or condition, many employees’ first thought is how it will impact on their working life and ability to provide for their family.

The UK operates a Statutory Sick Pay scheme aimed at providing most employees with a minimum level of secured income at a fixed rate for a fixed period of 28 weeks. Your employer may also operate their own contractual sick pay scheme over absence management which offers sick pay on more generous terms than the statutory minimum.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to absence management, sick pay and entitlements and absence from work.

Your contract of employment will stipulate what you will be paid if you are off sick from work and for how long. Your employer may have a contractual sick pay scheme that is more generous than Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). If your employer does not operate a contractual sick pay scheme, then you should receive sick pay in accordance with the SSP requirements which all employers must adhere to as a minimum. SSP is pay which you receive from your employer during your sickness absence.

There are certain requirements you have to meet before you are eligible for SSP. You must earn over £112 per week to qualify. If so, you are then eligible for SSP of £88.45 per week, which can be paid to you for up to 28 weeks (these rates change annually). After week 28, if you are still absent from work, your entitlement to SSP ends, although you may be eligible for other benefits, such as the Employment and Support Allowance.

It is possible for your employer to dismiss you if you have been absent due to illness. However, the requirements under employment laws for the dismissal to be fair still apply if you have been employed with your employer for over two years.

Before dismissing you, your employer should investigate:

  • The nature of your illness
  • The likelihood of you returning to work
  • The prospects of recurrence of the illness
  • Their need to have someone doing your role
  • Consequential impact of your absence on their business and workforce
  • Whether they had given you notice that your absence could lead to dismissal, and
  • Your length of service

Generally speaking, your employer should also consider any alternatives to your dismissal, such as other roles that, given your possibly recurring illness, you may be better suited for.

Also, if your illness relates to an underlying disability then under the Equality Act 2010 employment laws you have additional protections from dismissal – even if you do not have the two years of service required for an unfair dismissal claim.

Your requirement to attend an Occupational Health appointment depends on the terms of your employment contract.

If your contract requires you to attend an Occupational Health meeting if requested by your employer, you will need to attend. On the other hand, if your contract does not state this, you can refuse to attend the meeting.

However, whether or not your contract requires you to go to an Occupational Health meeting, it is often advisable for you to do so voluntarily. The purpose of such a meeting is often to give your employer a better understanding of why you are taking sickness absences and their best absence management approach for the circumstances. Without that information, your employer may have an inaccurate and misleading understanding of your medical position, making dismissal or another serious workplace sanction more likely to be taken against you.

If you have had a number of short-term absences through illness, your employer may hold a formal meeting to discuss these. You should remember that your employer may not only be concerned with long-term absences, but also persistent short-term sickness absences as these types of absence can be more disruptive to a business.

Your employer should ordinarily look at whether there are any medical reasons for these absences and allow you a period to improve your attendance. Only if your attendance has not improved over a reasonable period should dismissal be considered, especially if you have worked for your employer for over two years. However, as mentioned above, your employer must still follow a fair procedure prior to dismissing you on grounds of ill-health.

How can Thorntons help?

Our Employment Law Solicitors can advise you of rights when on sick leave, your right to Statutory Sick Pay and any contractual sick pay arrangements your employer may offer. We can also help you on your rights over whether your employer has acted properly in requiring you to attend a medical examination or dismissing you as a result of being on sick leave.  

Our team can help and support you if you have difficulty enforcing these rights and provide representation at an Employment Tribunal in Scotland, over your employer’s failure to recognise your right to Statutory Sick Pay or if you have been unfairly dismissed due to being absent through illness.  

Call us on 03330 430 350 to find out more about our services, or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you.

Depending on your case and circumstances, the first step is usually to arrange an appointment to come into one of our local offices to meet an Employment Law Solicitor to discuss your situation and the way forward. We will outline your options and, depending on your circumstances, we can look at various funding options to help with your case costs.

Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.