Taking sick leave

Employees can take time off work if they’re ill. They need to give their employer proof if they’re ill for more than 7 days.

If they’re ill just before or during their holiday, they can take it as sick leave instead.

Fit notes and proof of sickness

Employees must give their employer a doctor’s ‘fit note’ (sometimes called a ‘sick note’) if they’ve been ill for more than 7 days in a row and have taken sick leave. This includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays.

Employees can get a fit note from a GP or hospital doctor. If their employer agrees, a similar document can be provided by a physiotherapist, podiatrist or occupational therapist instead. This is called an Allied Health Professional (AHP) Health and Work Report.

Fit notes are free if the employee has been ill for more than 7 days when they ask for one. The doctor might charge a fee if they ask for the fit note earlier.

The fit note will say the employee is either ‘not fit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work’.

If it says the employee ‘may be fit for work’, employers should discuss any changes that might help the employee return to work (for example, different hours or tasks). The employee must be treated as ‘not fit for work’ if there’s no agreement on these changes.

Employers can take a copy of the fit note. The employee should keep the original.

Self-certification

If employees are off work for 7 days or less, they do not need to give their employer a fit note or other proof of sickness from a medical professional.

When they return to work, their employer can ask them to confirm they’ve been off sick. This is called ‘self-certification’. The employer and employee will agree on how the employee should do this. They might need to fill in a form or send details of their sick leave by email.

Sick leave and holiday

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 is not 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 do not qualify for sick pay, for example. Any rules relating to sick leave will still apply.

Employers cannot force employees to take annual leave when they’re eligible for sick leave.

Pay

When an employee changes their holiday to sick leave they’re paid Statutory Sick Pay which will count towards the amount of holiday pay they’ve received. The exceptions to this rule are:

  • they do not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay
  • they were off work sick and being paid ‘occupational sick pay’

Returning to work

Employers must make changes to an employee’s working conditions if they’re disabled. These changes are known as ‘reasonable adjustments’ and could include working shorter hours or adapting equipment employees use at work.

Employees can get free advice from Fit to Work on managing health conditions at work and returning to work from sick leave.

Long-term sickness

Employees who are off work sick for more than 4 weeks may be considered long-term sick. A long-term sick employee is still entitled to annual leave.

Dismissing a long-term sick employee

As a last resort, employers can dismiss an employee who is long-term sick, but before they can do this employers must:

  • consider if an employee can return to work - such as by working flexibly or part-time, doing different or less stressful work (with training if necessary)
  • consult with employees about when they could return to work and if their health will improve

An employee can take their case to an employment tribunal if they think they’ve been unfairly dismissed.