The Truth About Sick Leave in the UK

When we’re not feeling well, the advice we generally get tends to revolve around taking some time off work for rest and recuperation.

But what can UK employees expect when they’re too ill to go to work?

Statutory Sick Pay in the UK covers eligible workers for a period of up to 28 weeks. Employees are entitled to £88.45 a week, minus tax and national insurance. Currently, holiday entitlement can still be accrued during this time and unused annual leave can be carried over to the next year if necessary. However, this could change should we decide to exit the EU.

With the EU Referendum on June 23 fast approaching, and potential changes taking place as a result of the outcome, many Brits will be turning to other European countries to compare the way they treat their workers.

Sweden’s employees are entitled to sick leave equal to 80% of their salary, for up to 364 days, whereas workers who are absent due to illness in Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Austria receive 100% of their salary for at least a month.

But for many Brits, picking up the phone to call their employer and report in sick is a difficult decision.

We surveyed workers across the UK, and discovered that one third of respondents feel “too guilty” to stay home, and a further 73% of employees are afraid to take time off when they are ill because of how it will affect their paycheque.

The financial cost of taking sick leave

Beyond suffering through the discomfort of feeling ill, the financial impact of taking time off work can take an extra toll on employees.

According to our survey, 30% of people have had to rely on Statutory Sick Pay at some point during their career, currently standing at £350 each month. With average monthly household outgoings totalling £850, this leaves a £500 deficit for a typical worker.

Over half of employees say they received no financial support towards this debt, while one quarter had to rely on their partner for help, and 12% were forced to use their overdraft.

In light of these money worries, 65% of those surveyed admitted to going to work despite being ill.

Off poorly? The stigma of calling in

In addition to being fearful of the effect on their income, Brits reported feeling apprehensive about what their employers will think if they need to call in sick – 71% say they are worried about their boss’s impression of them, and 12% would rather show up to work ill than request leave.

One in three employees say they feel their workplace doesn’t side with them when they say they are unwell. The largest feeling of discontent is amongst those who work in the security and law enforcement industry, with 75% claiming their employer doesn’t support them at all when it comes to taking time off during illness.

Who’s better off when they get sick?

Companies with over 250 employees are the most likely to implement contractual sick pay, and 46% of respondents who work for large organisations confirmed their employer operates such a policy.

Those who work for micro-businesses, where there are fewer than 10 staff members, are the least likely to receive sick pay, with 60% reporting they don’t get any. As a result, 77% are afraid to take time off due to loss of income, and 62% have worked while sick.

This is followed closely by those on zero-hours contracts, with 52% saying they don’t get paid when they need to take time off ill, and 66% confessing that they have gone to work even though they were sick.

What do workers want?

Many people feel that the current level of support offered to workers in the UK when they are ill is unsatisfactory. While one quarter of Brits think Statutory Sick Pay sends out the wrong message and fails to promote a ‘hard working culture’, 63% believe it is inadequate and would prefer a scheme similar to that in Germany.

Of those who depend on a Statutory Sick Pay policy at their workplace, 43% believe their employers can afford to pay more and 35% argue that the government doesn’t do enough to support employees who are unable to go to work due to illness.

When the dilemma of ‘to call or not to call’ arises, and you’re overcome with doubt about what your boss might think, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. As our survey revealed, with employees across the UK voicing their concerns about the effect of ringing in sick on both their finances and their reputations, many workers ignore the advice of loved ones when sick and struggle into the office despite feeling under the weather.

If you have concerns about your rights in your workplace, get in touch.


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