Sick Pay & Disputes

Sick Pay is a topic that is likely to affect everyone at some point in their careers. Most people spend a significant proportion of their lives at work and it is almost a certainty that at some time or another, illness will prevent them from working. In many cases, staff working in environments with potential physical or chemical hazards may be victims of an accident at work, resulting in subsequent illness and absence. Accidents at work may also occur simply as a result of a slip, trip or fall. Surprisingly, many people do not know their rights when it comes to sick pay. The following summarises how to find out what you are entitled to, what to do when your employer disputes your sick pay and advice as to how to act in the correct fashion to avoid disputes and in accordance with the law.

Statutory sick pay

There are two main types of sick pay available, the first is statutory sick pay (SSP). This comes into play when you are not entitled to sick pay under your firm’s own scheme. Statutory sick pay is applicable as soon as you have started your job. There are conditions attached to it. Firstly, you must earn £97 a week or more on average, before National Insurance and tax have been deducted. Secondly, you must have been sick for at least four working days in a row. However, this does include weekends and bank holidays even if you do not usually work on these days.

Whether through an accident at work or simply through illness, if you receive statutory sick pay you will not get paid for the first three days you would usually work, these days being termed ‘waiting days’. Even if you work part time you must serve these waiting days, which means that if you usually work three days a week, your sick pay will not begin until your second week off work. The amount you receive will usually be around £79.00 per week. If sick pay will be the only form of income in your home you may also be entitled to housing benefit. You can claim statutory sick pay for the first 28 weeks of absence. After this time if you are still unable to return to work, you may be entitled to Incapacity Benefit.

Company sick pay

The second form of sick pay is company sick pay. This will always be more than the amount to which you are entitled under statutory sick pay. The level of company sick pay and the conditions attached to it will vary from job to job. Company sick pay is applicable to illness caused through an accident at work or simply through general illness. Even if you suffer from a debilitating repetitive strain injury (RSI), this may render you unable to work for a period and, as such, would be classified as an accident at work.

The scheme offered can be anything that the company wishes provided that it doesn’t fall below the level afforded by statutory sick pay. You should be given the details of your company sick pay scheme in a written form. This must given to you within two months of starting your employment. Even if the company does not have a sick pay scheme, this information must be communicated to you in writing. However, if you are not technically an employee, for example, you are an agency worker or an independent contractor, you will not be entitled to a written statement.

Although sick pay schemes are different, they generally follow a similar format. In many cases, company sick pay will not be applicable until you have worked a minimum period of service, often around three months. After this, following an accident at work or a general illness, you would typically receive your usual pay during any period of sickness. There are often limits as to the amount of sick pay to which you are entitled, for example, sick pay may only last for a maximum of six weeks. After this, you are likely to receive half pay for a specified period of time after which you may receive no further sick pay.

How to follow the correct procedures

To protect yourself, it is important to follow the correct procedures when you are ill or have an accident at work. Your company can refuse to pay you sick pay if you fail to do so. Companies often have the discretion withhold sick pay if they believe the absence to be unjustified. You should consult your written statement regarding sick pay to check as to how you are required to communicate your absence to your employer. In many cases, you will need to ring in to inform the company that you are ill, before a certain time of day. For example, if your employment begins at 9am, you may be required to ring in by 8am. You should find out beforehand precisely who you are required to notify at work.

If you have been off work for a week, you will usually have to self-certify. Employers cannot ask for a doctor’s note when you have been off work for one week or less, regardless as to the cause of your absence; whether an accident at work or simply through illness. Self certification often involves filling in a form to give details of your time off sick. If you are off work for longer than a week, for example following an injury sustained in the workplace, you will typically require a doctor’s note. Employers can ask for doctor’s notes to be produced every week, but no more than this. Provided that you follow the correct procedures and have consulted your employer’s sick pay policy you will be largely protected in the event of any dispute.

What to do if your employer is refusing to pay sick pay

If your employer is refusing to pay sick pay that you believe you are entitled to, this could be classed as an unlawful deduction. It is always advisable to try and resolve this informally with the company in the first instance. Some employers may attempt to avoid paying sick pay following an accident at work, believing this to be an admission of liability. Talk to your manager to try and resolve the dispute. If these talks do not lead to a satisfactory outcome, lodge a formal complaint following your company’s grievance procedure.

If this does not work, you could contact your trade union. Trade unions can usually help with this type of dispute. Joining a trade union can be a good way of making sure that your employment rights are protected. If you are not a member of a trade union, you can contact ACAS. This is a service that offers free and confidential advice on all issues relating to employment. Your local citizens advice bureau is likely to have experience in dealing with similar disputes and can give you valuable advice. As a last resort you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. This can be a long process and is only advisable when all other options have been exhausted.

If you have suffered as a result of an accident at work, not only are you entitled to sick pay, but you may also be entitled to compensation, particularly if your employer has been negligent in implementing effective Health and Safety measures. In any such case and even in the event that your employer is refusing to pay you whilst you are ill, you may wish to contact a no win no fee lawyer who will be able to advise as to the likely merits of a compensation claim against your employer.