’s guide to long-term sickness rights outlines your rights if you are off work due to long term sickness.

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The trend in long term sickness among older workers has been rising since well before Covid, but the most recent statistics on economic inactivity show that rises in long term sickness across the working population are one of the biggest reasons people have been dropping out of the workforce in the last two and a half years. Long Covid, NHS backlogs and increases in mental health issues are among the reasons. So, what are your rights if you suffer from a long-term illness.

What is long term sickness?

Long term sickness [LTS] is generally classed as sickness that lasts for a continuous period of 20 days or more. The general rule for most employers is that sickness is classed as long term if it lasts more than three weeks.

Your employer should make regular contact with you at a time that suits you to see how you are doing, but not pressure you into finding out when you will be ready to return to work.

They should focus on your health and wellbeing, and only discuss your return to work when you feel you are ready to do so. They may wish to make a record of how you are progressing.

Medical reports

If you’re off work sick for more than seven days, your employer will usually ask for a fit note (or Statement of Fitness for Work) from a GP or hospital doctor.

Once you have been absent through sickness for three to four weeks, your employer should seek your consent to enable them to obtain a medical report. This can be from your GP, but an Occupational Health report can be arranged through your employer’s service as this will assess your medical condition in relation to your specific duties as set out in your job description.

Once the report has been received, it should be discussed with you. Any options for helping you to return to work should be considered. It may be appropriate to consider reasonable adjustments that can be made to your existing role (this is a legal requirement if the medical condition fall within the definitions of the Equality Act).

Should the medical advice be that you cannot continue to undertake your role, your employer should consider any alternative roles that may be available within the company. Where no alternatives can be found, your employer will probably have to consider a dismissal on capability grounds.

What happens when you are off work on long term sickness leave?

Sometimes a home visit may be necessary if the LTS lasts a considerable amount of time. Such meetings should only be if you are happy to have someone from work meet you at home. You can agree to another location, such as a café or you may visit the office if you wish. Legally, you will have to have a meeting, but not necessarily at home. The Long Term Sickness meeting should cover:

  • Any concerns you may have;
  • Review any support that is being or could be provided; and
  • Your recovery and how it is progressing.

Contact during LTS can help to arrange a return to work plan. Again there should not be any pressure on when to return to work from your employer, but a discussion about the support that might be needed for you to be able to return to work.

Such support can include:

  • Making flexible working arrangements,
  • Redesigning or reorganising a job role, or
  • Instigating a phased return to work.

Statutory Sick Pay

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) exists to support employed people in the UK who are unable to work through illness. It entitles you to £99.35 a week for up to 28 weeks.

SSP is paid by your employer in the same way that you usually receive your salary. Tax and national insurance will be deducted.

To qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) you must be classed as an employee and have done some work for your employer – that is, you’re not sick on your first day. You must have been ill for at least four days in a row (including non-working days), and earn an average of at least £123 per week. You must also have told your employer that you’re sick before their deadline – or within seven days if they don’t have one.

Company Sick Pay

Each business will have a different sick pay scheme. Details of such schemes should be included in your contract or company policy.  If there is not a scheme, this should be stated. Legally there must be a scheme or reference to how to apply for Government schemes.

Long Term Sickness and the Equality Act

The Equality Act defines disability as a long-term physical or mental impairment which has a substantial adverse effect upon an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. You may want to check to see if your illness is covered under this Act. A recent tribunal case ruled that long Covid is a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and, while the result isn’t binding on other tribunals, it is thought it might open the floodgates for more successful discrimination claims being brought forward in the future.

If you are deemed to be disabled, your employer is under a legal obligation to consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable you to work, for instance, reducing your hours.

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