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Absence/Sickness

Q

I have been working for the same employer for 6 months and earn £112 per week, am I entitled to sick pay?

A

Yes, based on your earnings and the fact that you are in employment there is a good likelihood that you would be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The current rate for SSP is £88.45 per week from 6th April 2015 for employees with average weekly earnings of £112.00 or more. Qualifying conditions for SSP are:

  • You have done some work for your employer since you first started work for him
  • Your earnings attract a liability for employer’s Class 1 NI contributions (or would but for your age and level of earnings)
  • You have been off work sick for four or more days in a row. All days count for this including weekends and bank holidays and any days you don’t normally work. This is called a Period of Incapacity to Work (PIW)
  • You have average weekly earnings of not less than the Lower Earnings Limit (LEL) for NI contributions purposes. This is currently £112 per week for April 2015-2016 tax year.
  • You work for your employer for at least one day each week. This is called a Qualifying Day (QD) and these are the only days that SSP can be paid to you. But if you work a shift pattern where you have to work in one, or more, weeks but don’t work at all in the next week/s, the QD/s must be either the days you normally work in your working week/s or the Wednesday. This must be agreed between your employer and their workforce.
  • You cannot get SSP for the first three QD’s in a PIW. These are called Waiting Days (WD’s)

Further information on SSP is available from https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay(opens new window)

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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Q

Do I have to pay my employees sick pay? My firm has been operating for a year now and we have just had our first absence.

A

There is no obligation in law to have a company sick pay scheme providing cover from the first day of absence. If you did not specify such as part of the employment offer then the legal requirement you are under is to accord with the Social Security (NI) Order 1992. In respect of this, every employer is required to pay statutory sick pay (SSP) to any eligible employee aged 16 or more who becomes sick.

For more information go to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): employer guide at https://www.gov.uk/employers-sick-pay/help-with-sick-pay(opens new window)

If you require more specific assistance the Agency also provides a free service assisting you in drawing up tailor-made occupational sick pay schemes and absence notification and certification procedures or vetting existing procedures. For more details - telephone 028 9033 7424.

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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Q

An employee has been absent on 6 occasions in the last 3 months, can we dismiss her?

A

The decision to dismiss an employee should not be taken lightly. When dealing with absence from work it is important to establish whether there is any underlying medical condition that the 6 periods of absence relate to and if so, whether this illness amounts to a disability. If the illness does amount to a disability then you should proceed with caution, trying to assist the employee and making reasonable adjustments to enable the employee to fulfil their role.

In addition you should clarify whether the organisation has any absence management procedure which outlines how absence is handled. Often employers will, where absence for unrelated reasons becomes unacceptable, treat this as a disciplinary matter. In this instance the employee should, prior to any disciplinary action being taken, be counselled on their attendance and given a chance to improve. If, after this, no improvement in attendance is shown, then an employer may decide to take disciplinary action in line with the guidance in the Agency’s Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures.

Finally, in contemplating dismissal you should ensure that you follow the Statutory Dismissal and Disciplinary Procedure – details of which can be found on the A-Z section and in the code or practice detailed above. The Agency’s Guide to Handling Absence provides practical guidance on managing attendance, as does the Good Practice Seminar, Managing Absence.

Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures

Advisory Guide - Advice on managing sickness absence

Good Practice Seminars-

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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Q

My employer has told me that I am not entitled to sick pay for the first three days of my absence, is this right?

A

The first three days of a period of sick leave or Period of Incapacity for Work (PIW) are referred to as ‘Waiting Days’ and no Statutory Sick pay is normally due for these. However if you have had a PIW lasting for more than 3 days within a period of 8 weeks of the current PIW then the waiting days do not have to be served again and Statutory Sick Pay is payable from the first day of this period of absence. These two periods of incapacity from work are treated as being linked.

Further information on SSP is available from https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay(opens new window)

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639

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Q

We are thinking of introducing a discretionary sick pay scheme for our employees, can we do this?

A

The introduction of any new scheme or policy which will affect the terms and conditions of employment should be consulted on and discussed with employees or their representatives with a view to reaching agreement. Caution should be taken with the implementation and application of discretionary sick pay schemes to ensure that they are not applied in a discriminatory manner.

If you require more specific assistance the Agency also provides a free service assisting you in drawing up tailor-made occupational sick pay schemes and absence notification and certification procedures or vetting existing procedures. For more details - telephone 028 9033 7424.

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639

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Q

My doctor says that as the result of a recent accident I will have a degree of permanent physical disability, which will affect my capacity to work. I have heard that employers must not discriminate against disabled people in job offers and terms of employment and so on, but how do I know if I fall under the protection of those laws?

A

A person will be regarded as being disabled for legal purposes if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) has been amended several times with major changes and now conditions such as HIV, MS and cancer are covered as disabilities and some mental impairments do not have to be clinically recognised.

Any impairment must have lasted for at least 12 months, or be reasonably expected to last for that period, or be reasonably expected to last for life. If the impairment ceases to have a substantial impact on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities, it will still be treated as having that effect if it is likely to recur (for example, a mental illness) except in certain circumstances laid down in law. This last point doesn’t apply to your circumstances now.

An impairment is to be taken as affecting normal day-to-day activities if it affects a person with regard to mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination, continence, ability to lift, carry or move everyday objects, speech, hearing, eyesight, memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand, or perception of risks of physical danger. But the fact that a person is disabled within the meaning of other legislation (for example, for the purpose of the disability living allowance) does not mean that they will automatically come within the definition of disability. Codes and guidance are changing frequently in this area in accordance with amendments to statute,

You may wish to contact the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on 9050 0600 or www.equalityni.org(opens new window) for more information.

For more information on The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) see http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/the-disability-discrimination-act-dda(opens new window)

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 963

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Can an employer contact an employee whilst they are signed off sick by a doctor?

Employers are able to maintain a reasonable amount of contact with an employee who is off on sick leave, and in fact it is good practice to do so. This contact should be to get regular updates on the employee's recovery and prognosis, and to keep the employee up to date with what is going on in the workplace.

However, employers should not contact employees to put pressure on them to return before they are well enough to do so, or overwhelm them with contact to the point that it impedes their recovery or that they feel harassed. Where possible the method and frequency of contact should be discussed and agreed between the parties when it becomes apparent that the employee will be off for a while.

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 963

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Are employees entitled to time off work to attend medical or dental appointments?

There is no statutory right to take time off to attend a medical appointment (this includes GP, hospitalor dental appointments), except for antenatal appointments for pregnant employees. Neither is there a statutory right to take time off for elective surgery. However, some employees may have contractual rights to time off, either with or without pay.

Where there is a contractual right to time off, the contract may specify how much time off is allowed per appointment. Employers may request that employees try to arrange appointments outside of their working hours where possible, or that they aim to get an appointment at the beginning or end of the working day in order to minimise disruption to the business. Alternatively, employees may be asked to take annual leave to cover the day of the appointment, or to make up any hours lost at another time.

If the employee has to undergo essential (non-elective surgery), and is unable to work during the period of the surgery and recovery, then they would be treated as being on sickness absence.

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Helpline: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 963

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