Being sick from work is never fun for employees but can be equally frustrating for their employers. Long term sickness can be problematic for both parties and leave the working relationship between the two strained and unworkable, especially where pay is concerned.
But what exactly is long term sick pay and how do small to medium sized businesses manage it?
In this article we will seek to answer these questions and more.
What is long-term sick pay?
Long term sick pay is the money a company chooses to pay an employee when they have been sick for an extended length of time. It must meet the minimum statutory sick pay requirements (see the section on this later), but companies may choose to pay employees more or for longer than the Governments mandated maximum.
Is statutory sick pay the same as long-term sick pay?
Not necessarily. Statutory Sick Pay sets out the minimum lengths that a person can be off sick and still receive pay. Long-term sick is, in general, what happens after that and for how long. It’s up to the individual company as to how much long-term sick pay is paid and how long it is paid for, so long as it meets the minimum Statutory Sick Pay requirements.
How long is Statutory Sick Pay?
In the UK, statutory sick pay is paid to an employee who has been off sick for four or more continuous days up to a total of 28 weeks. During this time, they can’t be forced to work by their employer.
How much is Statutory Sick Pay?
An employer can get £99.35 a week from Statutory Sick Pay for up to 28 weeks payable from day four of the sickness. This is paid by the employer in the usual way. In some cases, the employer may elect to pay more than this amount, but this is entirely at their discretion.
What Is Long-Term Sickness?
The general consensus amongst most business is that if someone is absent from work for four weeks or more, it is considered to be long-term sickness. The four weeks do not have to be continuous. It’s legally possible to link periods if they last at least four days and are less than eight weeks apart.
Do I accrue annual leave whilst on long-term sick?
Employees earn and accrue statutory annual leave even while they’re off work sick. This can even be taken during sick leave, but employers can’t force their employees to take annual leave when they’re eligible for sick leave.
What can I do as an employer to help workers on long-term sick?
All businesses should support their staff in seeking treatment as well as considering how they can facilitate the illness of the employer so they can return to work (when they are ready). Less stressful or onerous types of employment, a change in working hours, environmental conditions, or even an alternative job (with training) are all potential solutions that should be considered.
Here are some other things that employers can do to reassure sick employees:
- Make it clear to employees that they won’t lose their job even if they’re off sick but give clear details of how long they can be off before disciplinary matters may start. Employers can’t help when they are off sick, but employers are not obliged to keep positions open indefinitely.
- Explain if, and how, the employee will be supported when they return to work. For example, their working hours may be reduced initially.
- Discuss with employees how their physical or mental challenges will be accommodated when they do return.
- Give them details of people who can help them with their illness. They may just be someone at the workplace who is there to listen to them when they need it.
What does UK law say about long-term sick pay?
In the UK, employers are required to pay employees on long-term sick a minimum amount for a minimum period. This is called Statutory Sick Pay (see elsewhere in the article) and is there to cover illnesses of anywhere between four days and 28 weeks. This is set out in law by the UK Government.
After this, it is entirely up to the employer how much they pay to their employers on long-term sick and for how long. Usually this will be set out in company policies but there is no legal obligation for the employer to provide anything if they don’t want to.
If the company does have a long-term sickness policy, they are legally obliged to apply it fairly and consistently or they could face a discrimination claim.
As an employer, what kind of long-term sickness policy should I have?
A thorough one is a good start. The best policies are clear and easy for employers and managers to read but are also thorough enough to deal with a variety of circumstances. Really good policies will include:
- Examples to illustrate or clarify ambiguous circumstances.
- Explanations of employees’ rights and obligations when they’re off sick.
- Details of the Statutory Sick Pay in line with government guidance or, if the company wishes to pay more, details of how much staff will receive when they are sick and for how long.
- Details of what happens after the Statutory Sick Pay period has ended.
- Details of who employees need to tell and how quickly they need to do this when they are sick.
- When they will be required to provide evidence from a medical professional.
- Any disciplinary processes that may apply to those off sick.
How much will an employee be paid if they are on long-term sick (outside of Statutory Sick Pay)?
As mentioned earlier in the article, that is entirely down to the employer. A company may choose to pay more long-term sick pay or pay it for a longer period. They may choose to reduce the amount paid (for example, half the amount after 6 months) or stop it all together.
Whatever a business chooses, they will need to make sure details are documented in employees’ contracts of employment and/or company policies.
Being off sick for extended periods of time can be stressful for employees and employers.
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