Sickness and Sick Pay

If you are too ill to go to work, you might be entitled to sick pay. In all cases, you should tell your employer as soon as you can that you are ill an unable to work. You will need a fit note from your GP if you are unable to work for more than 28 days. We also advise that you contact us. We will allocate a branch officer or a workplace rep to support you.

Entitlements to sick pay

Generally, if you’re employed in the UK you are entitled to sick pay when you’re unable to work due to illness.

  • You should tell your employer as soon as possible that you will not able to attend work.
  • Your employer may request a “return to work” interview when you go back to work.
  • You’ll need a fit note (also called a sick note) if you’re off for more than 28 days (including days you wouldn’t normally work, like weekends)
  • You’re still entitled to sick leave if you are on holiday. (There are limited circumstances in which you may still be entitled to sick pay if you work abroad.)
  • You can still get sick pay if you’re on a zero-hours contract (and earn more than £120 a week, and not self-employed), though some employers might not offer you work when you are ill.
  • Self-employed people are not entitled to sick pay.

Sick pay rates

Many organisations, like the NHS and councils, give you your full pay when you’re sick, and have what’s known as an occupational sick pay scheme.

However, if you work for a private company or have been outsourced, you may only be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which is the minimum amount the government says employers can pay.

Under SSP, you don’t get any sick pay for the first three days you are sick.

Statutory sick pay rates

From 5 April 2021, if you earn over £120 per week and are off sick for more than four days in a row, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay of £96.35 per week from the fourth working day on which you are off sick. This can be paid for up to 28 weeks of sick leave.

After this time, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if your employer stops paying SSP.

Coronavirus update:

Statutory sick pay is now available from the first day you are off sick, if you are off work due to Covid. If you are paid less than £120 a week you will be able to access Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance more easily.

Unfortunately, if you’re on a zero-hours contract you are not entitled to statutory sick pay, unless you can demonstrate that you earn at least £120 per week from your employer.

You may not be entitled to sick pay if:

  • you do not report your sick leave as soon as possible;
  • you do not provide medical evidence of your illness from the 29th day of your sick leave;
  • you are on sick leave for long periods.

If you have any issues with sick pay or entitlements please contact the branch office for advice.

Extended or frequent periods of sick leave

If you are on sick leave for an extended period (most employers would consider this to be more than four weeks), or if you have frequent absences, then your employer might ask you to speak to its Occupational Health services. In most cases this will be a supportive process and will help your employer to consider what more they can do to help you stay at work.

If you are referred to your employer’s Occupational Health service you have a right to not give your consent, and you also have a right to view the report before it is sent to your employer.

Where you are being paid Statutory Sick Pay, your employer could also contact HM Revenue and Customs’ Medical Services. HMRC’s Medical Services may then contact your doctor to confirm that you have been away from work for good reason. HMRC could stop any Statutory Sick Pay if it believes you are fit to work, although you can appeal against their decision.

Remember that your employer is not allowed to contact your own doctor to confirm the state of your health without first getting permission from you.

Work-related illness

If you’re injured or contract an illness while at work, you must record it in the accident book. If you see the doctor about this illness, make sure they are aware that it is work-related.

If you believe that the incident affecting you is an ongoing health and safety issue, contact the branch office.

Injuries and illnesses at work don’t affect your right to take sick leave or be paid sick pay.

Sacked for being off work

Under UK employment law, it is possible for an employer to sack you if you are off work sick. You can also be sacked if your employer determines that you have had ‘too much’ time off work. However, in all cases your employer must consider the specific circumstances of your case and they must act ‘reasonably’. If you have a disability, or if your illness relates to your sex, race, age or gender reassignment your employer must consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you to stay at work.

If you think you might be at risk of being sacked due to sickness or ill health, make sure you speak to the branch office as soon as possible. We can explain your options and provide ongoing support.

What does UNISON do?

As a trade union, we believe that all workers should be treated fairly and receive adequate pay when they are ill. In the past, we have successfully campaigned for outsourced workers to keep the same sick pay, and other terms, as the people in a workplace who have not been outsourced.

Where employers formally recognise UNISON we have been able to negotiate occupational sick pay schemes and better systems for supporting staff.

Not a member?

If you are having problems at work, you shouldn’t have to go through it alone. We can help, but only if you are a member.

Join UNISON today and get essential cover

Please note, in common with all trade unions we have a qualifying period of membership and cannot help you with problems that pre-date your membership and (in most cases) issues that arise within the first four-weeks of your membership.

Don’t wait until you have a problem, join us today.


Sick pay

  • If I am poorly and cannot go to work, what pay am I entitled to?

    Most workers in England will be entitled to sick pay, but not everyone. The amount you could receive will depend on what your employer offers.

    Good employers will provide ‘occupational sick pay’ for their workers. This will be explained in your contract of employment. It could provide for full-pay for a specified period, and/or a proportion of your normal pay (for example, half pay) for a specified period. If you are not sure if your employer provides occupational sick pay please check your contract, staff handbook or speak to your manager or HR department.

    Members who work for local councils, maintained schools, most Academy schools are employed on NJC (or ‘Green Book’) terms and conditions which provide for up to 6 months’ full pay and 6 month’s half-pay depending on your length of service. Some members who transferred from local government employers to private employers may also still be employed on these terms.

    If your employer does not provide occupational sick pay, your will probably be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. This is paid to you by your employer, but is funded by the government.

  • What is Statutory Sick Pay?

    If your employer does not provide occupational sick pay (most likely in the private sector) then you are probably entitled to SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) which is funded by the government.

    SSP is currently £96.35 per week, and it is paid for up to 28 weeks. It is only paid from the fourth day you are ill.

    If you are off work for more than 28 weeks, you might be able to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA) from the government.

    There are some eligibility criteria:

    • You must be employed
    • You must earn an average of at least £120 per week
    • You must have been ill for at least four days in a row (including non-working days)

    There are some additional provisions if you are off work due to Covid-19 (including if you have to self-isolate, or look after children who are isolating).

  • Do I need a fit note (sick note) from my doctor?

    You can ‘self-certify’ for the first 28 days that you are ill (this includes non-working days). Your employer will probably require you to complete a form.

    If you are off work for more that 28 days (including non-working days) you will need a fit note from your doctor. Fit notes used to be called sick notes.

    If you are off work because you have to isolate due to Covid-19, you do not need to get a fit note from your doctor as you wont be off work for more than 28 days.

    You should always inform your employer as soon as you can when you know that you are too ill to go to work.

  • Can my employer sack me for being sick?

    Sadly, employment law in England does allow an employer to dismiss (sack) you if you are off work due to sickness.

    However, your employer must consider things like:

    • How long you have been off work
    • How long you are likely to be off work
    • The impact on the business/organisation
    • If there are any ‘reasonable adjustments’ that could be made to your job, or workplace, to enable you to return to work.

    This is a complex area of employment and equalities law, so if you are being threatened with dismissal or any other formal action because you are off work ill, please contact the branch office straight away.

    Contact the branch office now

  • I have more than one job, how does this affect sickness and sick pay?

    If you have more than one job, whether you need to be off sick from all your jobs will depend on the nature of your work and your illness. It is possible to be unable to do one job, but not another. However, you need to be very clear as to why you can do one job but not another.

    You can be paid SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) for each job, so long as you meet the eligibility criteria.

    If any of your employers provide occupational sick pay, you will be entitled to your contractual entitlements from all your jobs so long as you comply with the requirements of each employer (such as having a fit note, informing your employer on time, etc.).