Employees are usually considered to be ‘long-term sick’ when they’ve been off work for four weeks or more. The four weeks don’t have to be continuous — periods can be linked if they last at least four days and are eight weeks apart or less.
Long-term employee illness can be costly, both financially and in terms of reduced performance. And even once the employee has recovered, they might not be able to fully return to work immediately. Your policy and pay scheme can help you manage these factors effectively.
Long-term sickness absence pay
Statutory sick pay for long-term absence
Most employees are entitled to up to 28 weeks of statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85 per week. To be eligible they must be:
- classed as an employee and have started work
- earn at least £120 per week
- abide by your company absence rules about notifying you of their absence
This means your employees have a statutory right to sick pay for up to 28 weeks. After those 28 weeks are up, or if they never qualified for SSP in the first place, employees can apply for employment and support allowance (ESA).
Employees on long-term sick leave also continue to accrue annual leave and are entitled to take it during their sickness absence.
Company sick pay policies
Many organisations also have a sick pay policy that extends the statutory allowance, by:
- paying employees their full salary for a fixed period of absence
- switching to SSP once this fixed period is over
Company sick pay policies vary considerably by sector and ability to pay. Large, public-sector organisations often offer six months of full pay, followed by a further period on reduced pay. Smaller companies may not be able to match this.
Long-term sickness absence policy
Pay issues aside, what policies can you put in place to help you manage the impact of a long-term-sick employee on your business?
Assess the situation
Your policy should prioritise assessing the reasons for the absence, and the likely duration.
To qualify for SSP, an employee must provide a doctor’s ‘fit note’ to explain absences of more than seven days — this will provide a basic reason. You may also wish to engage occupational health professionals to assess the employee’s situation, or ask the employee for permission to contact their GP directly.
Assessing the employee’s health can help you:
- Estimate the likely duration of the absence, and a possible return date
- Decide whether a temporary replacement is needed
- Prepare for new support needs, if the employee has developed a disability or needs a phased return to work
Should you determine that the reason for absence is not genuine, you can invoke formal disciplinary and absence management procedures at this point.
Stay in touch
Long-term and serious health conditions can change unexpectedly, for better or worse. Your policy should be to stay in touch with long-term-sick employees in order to:
- Keep up to date with changes in their condition and return date
- Help them to stay involved and feel part of the organisation, despite their absence
- Keep them informed of important workplace changes
Finally, always to take a sensitive and sympathetic approach to managing long-term sickness absence — so that employees feel supported to return as soon as they’re well enough.