Sick pay

Although you may not want to think about having to take sick-leave, it is wise to consider your employer’s policy on sick pay. Some employers are more generous than others, and it is well worth checking out if your future employer will pay you the government minimum or if they run a more generous occupational sick pay scheme.

Statutory Sick Pay is the minimum amount employers must pay any employees unable to attend work due to illness. Many employers operate their own occupational sick pay schemes, which usually pay more than SSP. New laws designed to improve the rights of people with disabilities are also affecting the way that employers deal with staff who have to take long periods off work when they are sick.

Not everyone is entitled to sick pay. The exceptions include short-term employees (those on contracts of three months or less), those not earning enough to pay National Insurance contributions, new employees (depending on individual company policy), pregnant employees, overseas employees and/or employees on strike.

If you fall within the category entitled to sick pay, you will qualify if you have been off work sick for four or more calendar days in a row, which includes weekends, holidays and other days not worked. This is known as a Period of Incapacity for Work (PIW). After the qualifying days, SSP is payable up to 28 weeks. After that, an employee will have to claim state sickness benefit.

If an employee does not qualify for statutory sick pay they may still qualify for sickness benefit from the DSS. Within the 28-week period, an employer can stop sick pay if you return to work, resign from your job or start maternity leave. Qualifying days should be stipulated in your employment contract.

If you are very ill and cannot return to work for an extended period of time, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 has improved your legal rights. The DDA defines disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. The Act requires employers to make reasonable effort to allow a disabled person to continue working.

The Act has widened the definition of disability, bringing many people previously excluded under its protection. A physical impairment may be obvious but not necessarily so – for example, arthritis, asthma or even migraine. A mental impairment is a clinically recognised mental illness and includes clinical depression.

The DDA states that the adverse effect must be long term and substantial. Long-term effects are those that have lasted, or are likely to last, at least 12 months or are recurring and likely to recur beyond the 12-month period. The term ‘substantial’ means that the adverse effect must be more than minor or trivial.

As an employee, you have the right to see the sickness record your employer holds for you. The Data Protection Act 1998 came into force on 1 March 2000 and, subject to certain exemptions, requires a company to notify the Data Protection Commissioner if it is processing personal data. This applies to employees’ personnel files, recruitment, health, attendance and disciplinary records and any other files compiled manually by management with or without authorisation. (You may have to pay a nominal administration fee in order to see your records).

Your employer may offer services to help with maintaining your health, such as:

– Eye tests – whether or not you are entitled to free eye tests and help with glasses depends on your contract of employment, however, those with jobs involving intensive use of VDUs are entitled to eye tests paid for by your employer.

– Health surveillance – some Health and Safety regulations require employers to provide health surveillance for employees as appropriate, such as checks from an occupational health nurse for those working with chemicals. For exposure to other health risks such as work-related upper limb disorder there is no legal requirement for health surveillance, however, employers should arrange an analysis of the working environment for anyone who works at a work station.

For more information, see Inland Revenue