Long-term sickness: your rights

HR expert Anna Ives outlines your rights if you are on long term sickness leave.

Elder Care


Long term sickness (LTS) can be a tough experience, especially with the added pressure from work. However, most workplaces are supportive, so you can concentrate on the most important thing, feeling better, resting and not worrying about work.

You may be absent from work for a variety of reasons and it is important that your employer ensures they are complying with all relevant legislation to give you the protection you need.

What is 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.

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

Company Sick Pay

Each business will have a different sick pay scheme. Details of such schemes should be included in your written statement of employment particulars or the statement should refer to a separate document for such details. If there is not a scheme, the written statement should say so. 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.

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

Medical reports

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.

LTS sickness can be a difficult time. Hopefully, understanding your rights will enable you to not worry about work and allow you the time needed to get better.

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