What to Include in a Sickness Policy

sickness policy


Sick leave in the workplace is unavoidable, although a well-written and well-implemented sickness policy can help to manage these absences and inform staff of the procedures to follow if they are unfit for work.

In this guide for employers, we look at what a sickness policy is and the benefits they bring the workplace. It also looks at what to include in a sickness policy, together with best practice tips on how to implement this.


What is a sickness policy?

A sickness policy is a workplace policy setting out the rules and procedures for managing, reporting and recording an employee’s absence from work due to either illness or injury, setting out what is expected from both the employer and employee within this context.

This type of policy can be broad in its terms and application, covering both short and long-term sick leave, or there can be separate policies for each. The length of any sickness policy is also a matter for the employer, although certain key matters should ideally be covered.


Do you legally need a sickness policy?

There is no strict legal requirement for an employer to have a sickness policy in place at work, although there are various legal aspects arising out of sick leave that should be set out in writing, including the rules around statutory sick pay and the provision of sick notes.

Employers are also under a statutory duty to ensure their employee’s health and wellbeing, where the absence of a sickness policy is likely to reflect badly on an employer, not least when it comes to sick leave due to work-related stress. It is important that an employee, especially when they are potentially at their most vulnerable, is clearly informed of their respective rights and obligations when taking sick leave and on their return to work.

When it comes to managing sick leave, it is also important that the way in which sick leave is handled is fair and consistent, where treating employees differently could easily lead to allegations of unfairness or even unlawful discrimination. The sickness policy can help to minimise the impact of any allegations in this regard. Equally, employers must be careful not to discriminate against anyone suffering from long-term ill health amounting to a disability, where all reasonable steps must be taken to support their return to work. Again, the sickness policy can address the question of reasonable adjustments.


Benefits of a sickness policy

There are various benefits to having a sickness policy in place, the most obvious being to help the employer to effectively manage their workforce needs. Being able to monitor and review absences, and to assess an individual’s capability to work, can help employers to make informed choices on all kinds of staffing issues. These could include the need for replacement cover or an absence review in respect of recurring sick leave. The use of back-to-work interviews as part of any policy can also act as an effective management tool, helping the employer to identify any patterns of absence and even acting as a deterrent.

However, the ability to effectively manage sick leave at work, including informing staff of the procedures to follow to report any absence due to ill health, not only forms a key part of workforce management, but employee wellbeing. As such, all employers should have in place a suitable and up-to-date sickness policy, one which is designed to support staff at any time when they are unfit to work as a result of either a physical or mental health condition.

By setting out the steps that need to be taken, together with the rights and obligations on both the employer and employee during periods of incapacitation, this can go a long way towards helping staff to feel supported when they are off sick. Taking a leave of absence from work due to ill health can cause significant stress for employees, including not knowing how this may impact their job security and whether or not they will get paid. A written sickness policy can provide the clarity a vulnerable employee needs, at least as to the correct sick leave procedures to follow and the legal entitlements that they can expect.


What to include in a sickness policy

The primary purpose of a sickness policy is to provide a clear framework for managing, reporting and recording sick leave. As such, a sickness policy should clarify exactly what is expected from both the employer and employee where an individual is unfit for work by reason of illness or injury, both in the short and long-term. This should include the employee’s rights and obligations during sick leave, how sick leave will be monitored and managed by the employer, and what will happen on an employee’s return to work.

However, it is also important to place the practical requirements and legal entitlements in context, setting out the employer’s ethos and overall approach to sick leave. In this way, an employer can help to reassure staff that they will be fully supported if they are genuinely unfit for work, including all reasonable steps to support their return. The sickness policy can also be used to set out absence review triggers, based on the number of days sick leave taken during any given period, together with the potential consequences of malingering.

There is no set format for a sickness policy although, as a matter of best practice, it should ideally contain the following matters as an absolute minimum:

  • a statement of policy, explaining the policy’s purpose and scope
  • the workplace reporting procedures, explaining how employee’s should notify their line manager or HR personnel of their absence, including who the employee should contact and how, and what information they may need to disclose
  • a section on sick notes, explaining when the employee needs to provide medical proof of their incapacity, as well as how and when to self-certify
  • a section on sick pay, explaining how much and for how long the employee will be paid, based on any statutory or contractual entitlement
  • discussion around keeping in touch, explaining how and when the employer and employee should keep in touch, and the respective obligations in this regard
  • the available support services, explaining what support will be provided by the employer, including any occupational health scheme or employee assistance programme
  • the back-to-work interview, explaining when and with whom return to work discussions will be held, as well as the purpose of this discussion on an employee’s return to work
  • the way in which absences due to sick leave will be managed in the workplace, from recurring short-term absences to long-term sickness and permanent incapacitation.

Given the potential for serious workplace issues arising as a result of not having an effective sickness policy in place, employers are strongly advised to seek expert legal advice when drafting or reviewing their company’s policy. In this way, a comprehensive sickness policy can be drawn up, specifically tailored to meet the needs of the business in question.


What should a sickness policy say about sick pay?

If an employee is unfit for work, they are entitled to take time off. Equally, if they are absent from work due to illness or injury, they may be entitled to sick pay, although the extent of this entitlement will depend on what is set out within their contract of employment. In some cases, the employee may have an enhanced right to sick leave, both in terms of qualifying requirements and level of pay. In others, they may simply be entitled to the statutory minimum, where employers cannot contract out of this legal obligation.

In circumstances where contractual provision has been made for sick pay, the employee should be signposted to their contract of employment or the company handbook. This may or may not provide the employee with an enhanced right to sick pay under any occupational sick pay scheme. However, even if the employee is only entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), this entitlement should be clearly set out within the sickness policy.

SSP is currently payable at £109.40 per week (from 6 April 2023) for up to 28 weeks. This is payable for those days that an employee normally works (known as ’qualifying days’), and from the fourth day an employee is unfit for work, where the first 3 days are unpaid.

By law, employers must usually pay SSP to any employee who:

  • has been off sick for at least 4 days in a row, including non-working days such as weekends or bank holidays (known as the ‘period of incapacity for work’)
  • earns on average at least £123 a week before tax
  • has notified their employer of their inability to work as required under any sickness policy or workplace rules, or within 7 days if the employer has not set a deadline.

The employer does not have to pay SSP for any days that the employee was late in telling them, unless the employee is able to provide a good reason for this delay.


What should a sickness policy say about sick notes?

As with sick pay, there are certain legal requirements when it comes to sick notes, where the sickness policy should ensure that these are clearly and accurately set out in writing.

Employees must give their employer a sick note if they are off work for more than 7 days in a row, including non-working days. They can get a sick note, also called a fit note, from either their GP, hospital doctor or another appropriate healthcare professional.

In addition to the requirement to provide a sick note after 7 days, under the terms of any sickness policy, the employer can also require the employee to self-certify their sick leave in circumstances where they are off work for less than 7 days. This is where the employee, typically on their return to work, is required to complete a company self-certification form or otherwise set out in writing the reasons for their recent absence.

Importantly, not providing a sick note does not negate any entitlement to SSP. The employee must continue to notify the employer of ongoing sickness, where payment can be withheld if there are any days for which the employer has not been notified, but if the employee is late sending medical proof of their incapacity to work, SSP must still be paid.


How should a sickness policy be implemented?

Having a well-written sickness policy in place is only the first step to effectively managing sickness in the workplace. It is also important to be able to implement this policy, such that staff are not only aware of its existence, but that they fully understand its contents so they what to expect and what is expected of them if they are unfit for work.

When it comes to communicating the contents of a sickness policy to staff, and ensuring that this is implemented as intended, the following best practice tips should be followed:

  • Induction training: by providing training around sickness procedures during the onboarding process for new-starters, including requiring them to read the sickness policy in full, this can help staff to understand their rights and obligations around sick leave.
  • Signpost within contracts of employment: if an employee is sick, but needs to understand their rights and obligations in the context of sick leave, they will often look at what is set out within their employment contract. It is therefore important to clearly signpost any sickness policy within this document, so that staff know where further guidance can be found. It is also important to ensure that the policy is made easily accessible, ideally online, where employees can easily refer back to this policy, as and when needed.
  • Regular staff training around the sickness policy: when it comes to communicating the contents of the policy across the workforce, this could be done online or in-person, so long as all staff are made aware of the policy and what it says. However, training for those staff responsible for managing sick leave, such as line managers and HR personnel should be far more in-depth. These are the people who will be taking calls from sick employees and instigating steps that need to be taken, either to support an employee’s return to work, or to take appropriate action around recurring or long-term sick leave.


Need assistance?

For expert guidance and support with all aspects of absence management, including developing and implementing an effective sickness absence policy, contact us.


Sickness policy FAQs

What is the new sickness policy UK?

Every year, adjustments are typically made to the amount of statutory sick pay that an employee may be entitled to if they are unfit for work. For 2023-24, the rate of pay was increased from £99.35 to £109.40 per week.

What is a typical sick pay policy?

Many sick pay policies in UK workplaces only make provision to pay an employee the statutory minimum. Statutory sick pay is currently £109.40 per week for up to 28 weeks, payable from the fourth day of being unfit for work.

What is the UK sick pay policy?

When it comes to sick pay policies in the UK, it is open to the employer to provide enhanced contractual pay rights in the context of sick leave, although they cannot pay less than the statutory minimum required by law.

How many sick days before disciplinary?

By law in the UK, there is no set number of sick days before an employer can start disciplinary proceedings. However, they can make provision for an absence review clause within any sickness or absence workplace policy triggering disciplinary action.

Last updated: 16 February 2024


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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