If you are too ill to work you need to take sick leave. Follow your employer’s sick leave procedures. Most employers will allow you to have a few days off without a doctor’s note, but for longer periods of time they can ask for a doctor’s note.
Sick leave is unlike other forms of leave in that you can eventually be disciplined or dismissed for taking too much (except for illness related to pregnancy). If you have odd days of sickness here and there and your employer believes you are taking more time off than you need or pretending to be ill, your employer may discipline or dismiss you for misconduct.
If you have a long period of sickness or repeated periods of illness (except for illness related to pregnancy), even if your employer believes your illness to be genuine, your employer can say that you are no longer able to work and dismiss you on the grounds of capability. This is true even if your illness was caused in the workplace.
How long you can have off will depend on lots of factors, including your length of service and how long your illness is likely to last, as well as your employer’s need to find someone to cover your absence.
In determining how much sickness absence you have had, employers are not allowed to take into account:
- Pregnancy related illness during your pregnancy.
- For women, time off for ante-natal appointments for your pregnancy.
- Maternity, Paternity, Adoption or Shared Parental leave.
- Parental leave.
- Time off for dependants.
- Health and Safety suspension.
If you have been off sick for a long time, sometimes an employer will ask you to submit to an occupational health assessment, or to give consent to a medical report being sought from your GP. Unless your contract says you must agree to this, you can say no, but your employer might draw his own conclusions if you say no.
If you are ill during pregnancy your employer’s normal sickness rules apply, with a few exceptions. If the illness is pregnancy-related it should be recorded as such and it should be ignored in respect of any promotion decision or the assessment of any other benefits at any stage of your employment. It should not count towards your sickness record if your employer has a procedure that may lead to dismissal once an employee reaches a certain level of sickness absence. For this reason it is a good idea for your doctor to state specifically on your sick notes when an illness is pregnancy-related.
You should check your contract to see if you are entitled to any contractual sick pay. Most employees and agency workers are at the minimum entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, or Employment and Support Allowance.
You should not be treated less favourably than other employees because you are sick, so for instance you should be paid your employer’s normal sick pay. If your employer does not pay sick pay or you have exhausted their scheme, then your employer must pay you Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), if you meet the conditions of entitlement.
Your employer can start your maternity leave automatically if you are off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before your baby is due – it does not matter what you previously agreed with your employer. Your maternity leave and any maternity pay will start on the day after the first day of absence from work. However, your employer may choose to overlook the odd day of absence during this period if they wish.
If you are well enough to work, but it is your job that is a risk to your or your baby’s health, then you have health and safety protection.
Note that if you are sick during the part of your pregnancy when Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is calculated and you get less than your normal pay (e.g. you get SSP only, or half pay) this could affect your entitlement to SMP.
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.