Sickness Absence

The average worker in the UK has 5.5 days of sickness absence a year. The main two reasons for absence are sickness and people feeling unable to come to work. Find out how your employer should treat short-term and long-term sickness under employment law.

Letting your line manager know

If you are absent from work you should try to speak to your manager within an hour of your normal start time. You should let your manager know about your illness and when you are likely to return to work.

Telling your employer about your illness

If you have been off work sick for seven days or less your employer can ask you to confirm that you’ve been ill. You can do this by filling in a form yourself when you return to work. This is called self-certification.

Many employers have their own self-certification forms. If your employer doesn’t have their own form, instead they may use an Employee’s Statement of Sickness form.

If you have been off work sick for more than seven days you will need to get a Statement of Fitness to Work (fit note) from your GP or the doctor that treated you in hospital.

The fit note allows your doctor to provide you with more information on how your condition affects your ability to work. It may suggest ways in which you can return to work, for example, changes to your working hours or different duties for a temporary time. This will help your employer to understand how they might be able to help you return to work sooner. You and your employer will be able to talk about how this will benefit your return to work.

Monitoring sickness levels and employment law

Your employer may keep records on the number of days you take off for sickness. You should look at your company policy on sickness absence – you can speak to Human Resources to help find this. Your employer can check for patterns in the days of the week taken off and the number of sick days taken.

Returning to work after sickness absence – employment law requirements

Your manager should have a return to work chat with you when you come back to work. This chat should be informal and brief. These chats are meant to:

  • welcome you back
  • check you are well enough to be at work
  • update you on any news while you were off
  • identify the cause of the absence
  • discuss any help your employer can provide to ease your return to work
  • decide whether the sickness is work related and whether there’s anything they can do to help

Long-term sickness absence employment law issues

If you are suffering from long-term sickness your employer should:

  • keep in regular contact
  • be clear about arrangements for sick pay
  • conduct return to work interviews

They may want to talk to you about different types of work and working arrangements. They will also have to consider how long your job can be kept open for you.

Returning to work from long-term sickness leave

You may feel anxious about returning to work after a long absence. Employers should put in place a getting back to work programme. This might involve:

  • shortening hours or offering flexible hours
  • catching up on any new developments within the organisation
  • training on new equipment or new processes/procedures
  • a friendly chat about what’s been going on at work

Losing your job while on long-term sickness – employment law

Employers can dismiss someone on long-term illness as a last resort only. Before making a decision they must consider:

  • if working part-time or flexible hours would help your return to work
  • if there will be a full recovery or if a return to the same work is not possible
  • if you could return if some assistance was given
  • if alternative, lighter or less stressful work is available, with re-training if necessary

If you feel you have been unfairly dismissed due to long-term sickness you can have your case heard with an Employment Tribunal.

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This page was last updated on 31/3/2014

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