What does sick leave mean for your business?

Theres no denying sick leave is a major cost to your organisation

If you're looking for up-to-date information on COVID-19 and sick pay, please visit our coronavirus factsheet.

The average UK employee takes 6.9 days of absence per year, at a cost of £554 (CIPD 2015). That amount can quickly add up to thousands or tens of thousands, even for a small or mid-sized workforce.

But what’s the alternative? Without sick leave, few people would want to work for you — and heaven help the ones who did, but then fell ill!

That’s why good sick leave management is vital. The most effective HR departments minimise sick leave costs while supporting unwell employees to recover and return at full strength. Good management starts with understanding sick leave regulations.

When must you offer paid sick leave?

Almost all UK employees are entitled to claim statutory sick pay (SSP). To be eligible, the employee must be on a contract lasting at least three months and have average weekly earnings of at least £120. Eligibility begins the first day the employee starts work.

As of 5 April 2014, you can no longer claim current SSP back from the government*.

Consecutive sick day allowance

SSP is currently £95.85 per week. It’s paid only from the fourth consecutive day of sickness*. The maximum period your organisation is required to pay SSP for is 28 weeks.

Days not worked don’t interrupt periods of consecutive sick leave — so if an employee is off sick Friday and Monday, and doesn’t usually work weekends, that would count as two consecutive sick days.

Sick pay and annual leave

Employees still accrue annual leave while off sick. You can’t force an employee to take sick days as annual leave if they’re eligible for SSP.

Opting out of statutory sick pay

Your organisation can opt out of SSP and offer your own scheme, contractual sick pay, instead. Payments must be at least equal to SSP.

The causes of short-term sick leave

Data from a major UK absence survey shows the most common reasons for genuine short-term sick leave include:

  1. Minor illness
  2. Musculoskeletal injuries, e.g. broken bones, sprains and conditions like RSI
  3. Back pain
  4. Stress (CIPD 2015)

How common is non-genuine sick leave?

Non-genuine sickness is another top cause of short-term absence for 30% of companies that employ manual workers, and 23% of companies with non-manual workers (CIPD 2015). Absence management policies should target this costly and unnecessary form of leave.

Best practice for managing sick leave

Now you know the costs and the causes of sick leave. How should you manage it?

Recent data shows 94% of companies have a written policy on absence management (CIPD 2015). A written policy makes clear what is expected from employees, and the consequences of excessive and non-genuine sick leave. Your policy should detail contractual sick pay, employee guidelines for notifying their line manager about sick leave, and other rules on absence.

Most companies also collect and use absence data to identify problem areas, so they can take effective action.

Measures for reducing sick leave

Many organisations also set annual targets for reducing absence. The goal is not to stop employees taking time off when they’re genuinely sick. Rather, it’s to cut down excessive absence.

Absence management policies often support these targets by including:

  1. Return to work interviews — This practice sends a clear message that sick absence is actively managed. Interviews can reveal deeper insight into the causes of employee sickness and absence so that preventative action can be taken.
  2. Triggered attendance review— An employee attendance review is triggered when his or her sick leave reaches unacceptable levels. As with return to work interviews, demonstrates active management and can reveal hidden causes of absence.
  3. Line manager development — Line managers who are trained and well informed about absence management procedures can be more effective in reaching targets.

Other common measures include risk assessments to aid return to work, allowing flexible working, and providing special leave for family circumstances.

When an employee is persistently off sick

Your absence management policy should also include a disciplinary procedure for unacceptable absence. Disciplinary procedures provide a deterrent and help prevent non-genuine sick leave. An employee’s absence levels can be considered unacceptable when:

  1. investigation shows the reason for sick leave was not genuine, or
  2. levels become unsustainable, affecting the employee’s ability to fulfil their role.

Overall, the way you manage sick leave should promote a positive culture of attendance – so that genuine illness is supported and unacceptable absence stamped out.

* Please be aware that this might differ for COVID-19.


Share this article

More on leave and absence

Flexible furlough scheme

The coronavirus lockdown situation is changing rapidly. And with it, the UK government is making adjustments to the Job Retention Scheme…

How should you manage unauthorised absence?

What is unauthorised absence? Unauthorised absence is when one of your staff fails to come to work without a good reason. It goes without…

Types of Clocking in Systems

If your business has hourly employees then you’ll need a system to help with clocking in and out. One that monitors start and finish times…

Time off for stress

Most of us deal with stress on a daily basis, often in the workplace. But for some—over a long period of time—it can become overwhelming…

What you need to know about time off in lieu of overtime

What is time off in lieu (TOIL) of overtime? Time off in lieu (TOIL) of overtime is where you agree with your employee that you'll reward…

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a simple formula that lets you monitor employee absenteeism over a set period, such as the current business year…

Employee returning to work after suspension

When you suspend a member of staff, they’re still employed for you but don’t attend work. In fact, they should do no work for you at all…

Returning to work

Whether your employee has been away on sabbatical, has been taken ill, or has been raising a newborn, it will take time for them to readjust…

Presenteeism in the workplace

There’s a new-fangled practice in the business world. It’s “presenteeism” and some employees, and potentially even business owners, think it…

What is the purpose of parental leave?

Thankfully, employees in the UK can request unpaid time off to take care of their children’s needs up until their 18th birthday. This is…

What is maternity leave and pay?

It was only in 1993 that all working women were permitted to take paid maternity leave in the UK. Thankfully, most companies are now much…

What to do when an employee suffers long-term sickness

The first step is to establish a clear and precise criteria for long term sickness — which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. The…

Are your employees skiving?

Whether they're skiving at work or they're pulling a sickie away from the office, an employee not doing their job properly will count as…

Holiday request forms

The unpredictability of staff absences can make it a challenging HR task—and a costly one. The average UK worker is absent almost seven days…

Garden Leave

This peculiar term causes quite a lot of confusion in the business world. It throws up images of employees taking time off to tend to their…

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave

It's a grim reality that some of your staff will lose their loved ones while working for you. In these instances, people need time off to…

Employee annual leave

It’s generally agreed that a healthy balance between work and time off is essential for a healthy and happy workforce. Your organisation…

Absenteeism in the workplace

How do you define absenteeism? For us at BrightHR, absenteeism in the workplace is where an employee frequently doesn't turn up for work, to…

Do you have an absence management policy?

Bad news: sometimes your staff are going to be off sick . But fear not! At the end of this guide, you'll know all you need to know about…

Furlough guide for employers

Furlough is now a business buzzword. Most professionals hadn’t heard of it before—now it’s everywhere and you can’t avoid it. For businesses…

Clocking in and out systems for small businesses

Although it may seem like a minor part of your business’ daily routine, how your employees arrive and leave is essential. When they clock in…