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Sick leave and pay

All employees, irrespective of age, are entitled to claim statutory sick pay as long as they have average earnings of at least £118 per week (from 6 April 2019). For SSP purposes an 'employee' is classed as someone who attracts liability for Class 1 National Insurance Contributions, or would do so if his or her income was high enough.
Eligibility begins on the first day of employment - although the employee must have actually started work - on a contract that is to last for at least three months.
Married women and widows who pay reduced NICs may be eligible for SSP if they meet the qualifying conditions.

Key points

  • All employees earning at least the National Insurance Lower Earnings Limit, which is £118 per week gross (from 6 April 2019) are eligible for SSP for up to a maximum of 28 weeks. 'Employees' are defined as those liable for Class 1 NICs or those who would be liable if their income was high enough.
  • For the tax year beginning 6 April 2019 statutory sick pay rate will be £94.25 a week and is set to increase to £95.85 per week from 6 April 2020 (see our ‘Statutory rates’ page for historic rates).
  • Employers can opt out of SSP if they operate their own scheme (contractual sick pay). Payments must be at least equal to what would be received under the statutory provisions.
  • Details of the contractual sick pay scheme must be included in employees' written particulars of employment or employees can be referred to other sources of information such as company handbooks.
  • Employers operating their own arrangements must keep records of qualifying periods of sickness.
  • Decisions on long-term ill-health absentees will have to comply with the Equality Act 2010.
  • Employers are liable for the payment of SSP. Any payments are subject to PAYE, National Insurance and any other usual deductions.
  • SSP is paid only from the fourth consecutive qualifying day of sickness. Absence from work from this day is known as a period of incapacity (PIW). A PIW is the period of time during which an employee is incapable of work.
  • All days including weekends, holidays and days not normally worked are taken into account in calculating the PIW. A PIW which occurs within 56 days of a previous PIW will be linked, counting as one period of sickness.
  • Employees with at least one month's continuous employment who are suspended from work on medical grounds are entitled to remuneration for up to a maximum of 26 weeks.
  • Special rules apply to pregnant employees suspended from work on medical grounds.

Note: the Percentage Threshold Scheme, which allowed employers to recover some or all of the SSP paid to employees, has been abolished but employers have until the end of the tax year 2015-16 to reclaim SSP paid before the end of the tax year 2013-14.

Recent developments

Consultation examining changes to SSP

Following recommendations made in the 2017 Taylor Review, the government has released a consultation looking at making changes to the current statutory sick pay (SSP) scheme.

These changes include removing the need for individuals to achieve the lower earnings level (currently set at £118 per week) before they become eligible for SSP and simplifying rules aorund qualifying days. To help provide more employees with support, the consultation is asking whether a right to request work(place) modification for those not covered by the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 will help encourage employers to take action to return employees to work.

The consultation will close in October 2019. More information can be found in our news article.

Government consults on introducing single body to enforce employment rights

Following a proposal contained in the Good Work Plan, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has released a consultation examining whether a single enforcement body should be introduced for employment rights and obligations.

A single enforcement body will look to carry out enforcement which is currently undertaken by others, including holiday pay, the minimum wage (currently enforced by HMRC) and agency worker rights (currently enforced by the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate).

The consultation asks interested parties to submit their views on the remit and enforcement powers of this body, as well as asking whether it should carry out enforcement of statutory sick pay and unpaid tribunal awards. More information can be found in our news article.