Sick leave

Sick leave (or sick days) is time off from work that workers can use to stay home to address their health needs. In many cases, they can do this without losing pay.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: April 5, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
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At some point, every business will have to deal with employee sickness. In the UK, over 130 million sick days are taken by workers because of injury or illness every year. That’s over 4 days per individual. And while sickness often can’t be helped, sickness absence can cost a significant amount of money for employers.

With such a high financial burden on businesses, it’s important that all employers know what their obligations to employees are. On the flip side, it’s also important for employees to understand what their rights in terms of sick leave and sick pay are.

That’s easier said than done, which is why we’ve put together this handy little guide. In it, we will discuss what sick leave is and dig deeper into the types of sick pay an employee can claim. We will also look at the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees. Let’s begin.

What is sick leave?

Sick leave (or sick days) is time off from work that workers can use to stay home to address their health needs. In many cases, they can do this without losing pay. It differs from paid holiday leave as it is solely for the use of combating health-related matters.

Sick leave can cover mental health issues or time away from work to go to a scheduled doctor’s appointment.

Some workplace policies will also allow sick leave to care for family members and their health issues.

What is sick pay?

Sick pay is simply money given to an employee when they are absent from work because of sickness. Sick pay comes in a variety of different forms (see the relevant section below) and won’t necessarily be at the same rate as an employee’s standard pay.

As an Employee, Am I Entitled to Sick Pay?

In the UK, employers must pay employees for time away from work when they are ill. The government set out the rules for this in the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Naturally, paying employees when they are not working costs money that employers could use for more important business purposes. For this reason, most will create their own sick leave and sick pay policies that govern how much an employee will receive and for how long. It is important to note that any internal policies must adhere to legislation set out by the government.

Types of sick pay

There are two types of sick pay in the UK:

  • Statutory Sick Pay. This is sick pay an employer is legally obliged to pay to qualifying employees as set out in legislation.
  • Occupational Sick Pay. This is an employer’s own sick pay scheme and is often more generous than the legal minimum requirements.

Let’s look at each in a little more detail:

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is the minimum amount of sick pay a worker will receive when they are off sick. The amount an employee receives is governed by legislation.

How much is Statutory Sick Pay?

At the time of writing, the current rate of SSP stands at £95.85 per week. Part-time workers are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay but will receive a pro rata rate.

Who pays Statutory Sick Pay?

All employers must pay Statutory Sick Pay if their employees are off work sick. In the past, employers could recover some SSP costs if they had to pay a certain amount out in a month. This was under the Percentage Threshold Scheme. However, the government scrapped this scheme in 2014.

When does SSP start being paid?

SSP kicks in on the fourth day in a row that an employee is away from work sick. This is known as the first ‘qualifying day’. Employers don’t have to pay an employee anything for the first 3 days of sickness. These are known as statutory ‘waiting days’.

When does SSP stop?

Typically, Statutory Sick Pay stops when the employee is fit to return to work. However, the rule changes for long-term sickness and an employee is no longer eligible after 28 weeks’ absence. SSP can also stop if the employee in question has linked periods of illness separated by less than 8 weeks, which have lasted for longer than 3 years.

Who qualifies for SSP?

To qualify for Statutory Sick Pay, a worker must:

  • Have a contract of employment.
  • Earn a minimum of £113 a week
  • Have been off sick for at least 4 days in a row. This includes non-working days.
  • Have given the employer the requisite notice of sickness, within time limits set out by the employer. For example, before 9am on the first morning they were off sick.
  • Have proof of illness if they’ve been off for 7 days or more. This is normally in the form of a doctor’s note (also known as a fit note).
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Occupational Sick Pay (OSP)

Occupational sick pay (also known as company sick pay or contractual sick pay) is a sick pay scheme set out by the employer and is generally more generous than SSP.

Employers often offer OSP, which can cause significant financial burden on their business, to support staff and provide a more valuable benefits package for workers.

How much is occupational sick pay?

That depends on who you work for. Occupational sick pay is completely down to the employer. Some will offer an increased pay rate (usually at the employee’s standard rate). Others will offer pay for the first 3 days. Many combine the two.

Who is eligible for occupational sick pay?

Again, this is up to the employer. They will set out the rules for OSP in their sick leave policy. It’s important to note that if an employer implements an OSP policy, they must ensure they administer it fairly for all staff.

Who pays company sick pay?

As OSP is an optional payment by employers, they must cover the full costs of the scheme.

In Conclusion

Understand the rights and responsibilities of sick leave and sick pay can be difficult. But we hope with the help of our guide you find it an easier topic to navigate in the future.

manage shift planning, timesheet and sta
Free Trial
Track Staff Working Hours, Record Absence & Approve Vacation
  • Clock in and out from browser
  • Time tracking via Phone & Tablet app
  • View & approve time records online
  • Export timesheets to payroll
  • View & approve staff vacation requests
  • Overview of employee availability & absences
14 days free trial. No credit card required
14 days free trial Know more

Photo by David Mao on Unsplash



Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)