Sick pay rights

What you're entitled to be paid when you're off sick varies from job to job and there are also different sick pay schemes in operation - but there is advice available if you have problems.

Types of sick pay

If you take time off from work due to illness, you might be entitled to sick pay. There are two types of sick pay:

  • company sick pay (also called contractual or occupational sick pay)
  • Statutory Sick Pay

If your employer runs their own sick pay scheme it is a 'company sick pay scheme' and you should be paid what you are due under that. If you aren't entitled to anything under a company scheme, your employer should still pay you Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you're eligible.

Company sick pay

Your employer may offer a sick pay scheme that is more generous than the legal minimum (SSP). Your employer can offer any scheme that does not fall below the legal minimum.

Details of your company sick pay entitlement should be included in your written statement of employment particulars, which you should be given within two months of starting work. If your company doesn't offer a scheme, the written statement should say so.

A typical company sick pay scheme

Company sick pay schemes vary from employer to employer.

A typical sick pay scheme usually starts after a minimum period of service, for example, a three month probationary period. You would then receive your normal pay during any period that you are off work due to illness, up to a specified number of weeks. After this, you're likely to receive half-pay for a further period before any sick leave you take becomes unpaid.

Proof of sickness required by your employer

Your employer may set out how you should tell them that you are sick, ringing in before a certain time of the day, for example. Usually you will be able to self-certify for a week of illness; beyond that a fit note (doctor's note) is normally required.

Employer discretion

Your employer can choose to make an exception and pay you sick pay even if you don't qualify under the company rules. Also, some sick pay schemes say that payments are 'at the employer's discretion', which means your employer can refuse payment if they think the absence is unjustified.

However, in doing so they must ensure that their decision is free from discrimination (that is, they're not favouring one category of employee over another when they're required not to).

If your employer has chosen to pay discretionary sick pay in the past this does not automatically mean they have to in the future. However, it is sometimes possible for a discretionary arrangement to become a part of your contract through 'custom and practice'.

Statutory Sick Pay

If you don't have a company scheme, you will be paid Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) by your employer, as long as you qualify. 

You get SSP for the days you would normally have worked. It's not paid for the first three days you're off, unless you've been paid SSP within the last eight weeks and are eligible for it again.

Work related sickness

The amount of sick pay you get isn't usually affected by the cause of your sickness. Your employer may have a special scheme in place for workplace injuries - check with them for details.

If your employer is responsible for your incapacity you have a legal right to make a personal injury claim. This applies to both a physical injury sustained at work or a psychological injury, like stress. You should speak to a lawyer or trade union representative if you're considering this.

Time off to care for a sick dependant

You can take time off to care for a sick dependant. However, your employer does not have to pay you for this time unless your contract says they must.

How time off sick affects your holiday entitlement

If you're on sick leave you can normally build up four weeks' statutory paid holiday time, like any other employee. Statutory holiday entitlement is built up (accrued) while an employee is off work sick (no matter how long they’re off). 

Any statutory holiday entitlement that isn’t used because of illness can be carried over into the next leave year. If an employee is ill just before or during their holiday, they can take it as sick leave instead.

An employee can ask to take their paid holiday for the time they’re off work sick. They might do this if they don’t qualify for sick pay, for example. Any rules relating to sick leave will still apply.

What to do if you have problems

If you are unsure about anything relating to sick pay, talk to your employer first.

If you are having problems getting your sick pay:

  • check your contract to find out how much you should get
  • ask your employer if there's been a problem paying your sick pay
  • find out your rights for Statutory Sick Pay

If you disagree with your employer's decision on SSP, ask them to write down the reasons why not, your local HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) office can decide the matter. If your employer is refusing to pay you sick pay you're due, this is classed as an 'unlawful deduction from wages'.

Where to get help

Advice NI offers free and impartial advice.

If you are a member of a trade union, you will also be able to get advice and support from them.

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