The most failed question

We’re recruiting at the moment – a steady stream of new clients over the last few months means we need to grow our team.

Our recruitment process is pretty hardcore: after all, the person we hire will be giving advice to our clients, which means it’s got to be spot on.

As part of the process, we ask a lot of HR questions, and there’s one question that candidates keep failing – when they do, it’s a pretty big red flag.

It’s a pretty simple one – “How much sick pay do you have to pay staff?” – but the number of people getting it wrong makes it clear that there’s a lot of confusion in this area.


So, just in case you’re confused too, let’s clear things up: here’s everything you ever wanted to know about sick pay but were afraid to ask.

If they’re sick, employees can “self-certify” for the first seven calendar days. After that point, they’ll need Fit Notes from their GP/other medical professionals to confirm their absence.

If they provide a Fit Note, they’re entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one of working.

Which might sound simple.  But it’s really not.

The government makes the SSP rules, and in the small print it says that the employee will qualify for up to 28 weeks of SSP if they have earned over the lower earnings limit (LEL) – £123 – every week for 8 weeks.

(In fact, it is even more specific than that, but you don’t need to worry about the miniscule print, because your payroll software will automatically work out for you whether that employee has met the earnings criteria.)

If they meet the earnings criteria, they’re entitled to up to 28 weeks on SSP.

After that the sickness absence would be unpaid (although we would have taken other steps to resolve the situation by then).

For the SSP clock to reset, the employee has to be back at work, continuously, for a full 8 weeks, and then they would be entitled to another 28 weeks SSP.

This is where some employers start getting indignant about “people exploiting the sick pay system”, forgetting entirely that the amount of SSP is only £116.75 per week, which is peanuts if you have bills to pay and food to buy. Very few people “exploit the system” for that amount of money.

SSP has to be paid to all employees if they meet the government’s criteria.

Can you pay more?

Some employers pay enhanced sick pay, usually after a certain length of service.

For example, in the golf industry, it used to be scarily common to pay all staff 3 months full pay and 3 months half pay once they’d passed their probationary period.

One client was even worse: TWO MONTHS full pay in every sick year.

They had a chef who was signed off sick November and December, full pay. January was a new sick year, and he was signed off again January and February. That is when I was called in to deal with the situation and make sure it never reoccurred!

(It didn’t.)

You can restrict the amount of enhanced sick pay you pay by only paying it after a certain length of time (after one year of service), or only to senior management, or a certain department.

But if the criteria you have used is discriminatory, you are at high risk of a claim.

For example, if it only goes to greenkeepers (who are often white males), or full-time staff, or those with lots of years of services, all of those things can end up being classified as discrimination.

Since April 2020 there is no more “discretion” as to who you pay when they are sick.

ALL paid benefits have to be in the contract now, because employers could not be trusted to treat their employees fairly when it comes to paying for sickness absence, letting themselves be influenced by things such as “Bob never says good morning”, “Cheryl always brings me a cup of tea” to decide who gets what.

And let’s be honest – should you really be spending your precious time trying to decide who deserves what level of sick pay?

You have better things to do – like do some marketing to get new clients…

Sickness absence too much

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