Long term sickness: Everything you should know

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If you’ve ever had a long term sickness that has stopped you from going to work – whether it was a bad back that meant you couldn’t sit at a desk or stress keeping you from going back – then you know that it can be a tough, confusing and stressful time.

Not only do you have to focus on your health and making sure that you get better, but you also have to make sure that you – and your employer – follow the rules during your long term sickness.

What is long term sickness?

If you’ve been off work – or anticipate being off of work – for longer than four weeks, then this is usually considered long term sickness. Be sure to check with your employer, though – some HR policies differ.

As a general rule, if you’ve been signed off with a doctor’s note (and especially if the doctor has issued you with another note) then you can consider it long term sickness. Prior to that, it’s called self-certification.

What are my duties when I’m on long term sickness?

A bit like the definition of long term sickness, your duties aren’t set in stone. They’re usually based on HR policies for each business and can vary on issues such as protocol when signing yourself off work or whether you must go into work on your time off for meetings or discussions.

In general, you’re expected to pop in for meetings (only HR meetings, not work meetings) if possible – and if you’re well enough.

Will I still be paid if I’m on long term sick leave?

From the fourth day of your sickness, you’re entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). SSP will be paid by your employers on pay day, just like your regular wages.

You will still pay tax and National Insurance on your sick leave though, which brings it down to a standardised weekly rate of £87.55, regardless of your yearly salary. (However, some businesses pay their employees more sick pay. If in doubt, check your contract.)

However, you may not be entitled to full SSP if:
• you do not report your sick leave as soon as possible
• from the eighth day of your sick leave you do not provide a doctor’s note
• you are on sick leave for long periods of time

How do I return to work after a long term sick leave?

Once you’ve recovered and are ready to return to work, you can be declared Fit for Work by your GP or employer.

This allows you to get health and work advice and an assessment on your ability to carry out your work in light of your illness.

Can I be dismissed because I was off sick?

Technically, yes. But it’s not as scary as it sounds.

In some circumstances – when there’s no real prospect of an employee returning to work – then dismissal is considered an appropriate course of action.

However, that is only when all other avenues and possibilities have been exhausted – including alternative working arrangements that take into account your illness.

Luckily, this isn’t down to HR policy – it’s the law. You’re protected by the Equality Act 2010 which holds employers to account for dismissals and ensures that they have to demonstrate that every possible step to get you back to work. If they haven’t done this, then you have grounds for unfair dismissal. (Or, depending on the circumstances, constructive dismissal.)

Hopefully it won’t come to any of the legal jargon-y stuff, but if it does, it pays to get in contact with a union like UNISON. Not only are they experts in things like this, but they’re also there to act as representatives on your behalf. They can attend meetings with you and advise you as to whether your employer is acting legally and fairly. (They can also give you advice on what to do next.)

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