Time off work - sick leave

Problems often happen when you take time off work because you are sick, particularly if you are off for a long time or if you have to call in sick a number of times in a short period. Taking leave for your mental health counts as sickness, just like a physical health illness does. An employer is not required to wait indefinitely for you to return to work from sick leave. But dismissing you because you have taken time off because you are ill may not be fair if they have not given you a reasonable period of time to recover. It is important to know what sick pay you are entitled to and if you can get statutory sick pay.
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Find out what sick leave you are entitled to 

Many employers give staff a certain number of days' paid sick leave per year. It's up to your employer whether to do this or not. Have a look in your employment contract to find out what you are entitled to.

Your contract should say:

  • How much sick pay you are entitled to
  • How long your employer will pay it
  • Any rules your employer has in place around taking sick leave

If you are off sick for at least four days in a row (including non-working days) you may be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is set in law and is paid to you by your employer. You have to be earning over a certain amount to qualify. If you meet the criteria, you can get £109.40 per week up to 28 weeks.

To find out more about Statutory Sick Pay and how to claim it have a look at look at the GOV.UK information on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

If you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay then your employer must pay you this as a minimum, but can pay you more on top, if your contract entitles you to more.

If your time off because of sickness are caused by a disability then you should ask your employer not to count these absences towards your sickness absence record. There is no entitlement to have such absences discounted from your absence record but, depending on the circumstances, this may be a reasonable adjustment to your terms of employment. If they refuse or if you are dismissed because of these absences you may have a claim for disability discrimination.

Statutory Sick Pay if you are not an employee

Usually you will not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if you are not an employee, but if you are an agency worker you might be. Check your contract with the agency and get some advice if you can.

Sickness caused by your job

If you are getting sick because of conditions at work, your employer could be flouting health and safety requirements

If you are suffering a stress-related illness because of bullying at work, your employer could be held responsible and you might be entitled to compensation. For more help on this take a look at our guide about bullying in the workplace

Sickness when you are pregnant

Your rights to sick leave when you are pregnant or already on maternity leave vary. It depends on whether you are sick because of the pregnancy or for another, different reason.

Sickness caused by your pregnancy

Your doctor can tell you if your sickness is caused by your pregnancy or not. If it is you can get Statutory Sick Pay up to 4 weeks before your due date. If you are off sick from 4 weeks before your due date your maternity leave and maternity pay will start.

You cannot be dismissed for being off sick when you are pregnant.

For more information on your rights when pregnant see our other short guide on what to do about work when you find out you are pregnant and what time you can take off.

Sickness that is not caused by your pregnancy

If you are sick for a different reason you are entitled to sick leave under your contract or, if you are entitled to it, Statutory Sick Pay. Then your maternity pay will start on the date you start your maternity leave or the week your baby is due, whichever comes first.

Time off for routine health appointments like the dentist or doctor

Your employer doesn't have to give you time off for this, check your employment contract. You might have to go outside work hours, take annual leave or make the time up later.

But if you have a medical appointment in relation to your pregnancy or a disability you have, you should get time off. 

Losing your job due to illness

If you lose your job because of time off work due to sickness, you should seek some advice about your situation. In some circumstances, this may actually be what lawyers call an ‘unfair dismissal’. This will only be the case if your employer has not treated you reasonably. To work out if you have been unfairly dismissed you will need to get some more help. Start by looking at our guide on ending your employment.  

August 2023

More help on sickness and time off work

For more help see Annual leave and sick leave. We have hand-picked the best accurate information available about your rights to time off work in England and Wales available anywhere on the web, so that you don't have to.

About this guide

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales.

The law is complicated. We recommend you try to get advice from the sources we have suggested if at all possible.

This guide was written by Law for Life thanks to funding from the Bar Standards Board.

Law for Life would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide and to Jude Shepherd from 42BR Barristers who peer reviewed the guide.

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