LRD Booklets October 2010

Sickness absence and sick pay - a guide for union reps


Industrial relations and work organisation are key issues in sickness absence. However, even though the evidence strongly links employee involvement to health, well-being and productivity, employers are often slow to consult unions about sickness absence policies and procedures.

For example, a survey carried out for public services union UNISON in 2006 revealed that the union was frequently excluded from discussions about sickness absence policy, with 40% of safety reps reporting that they were never consulted over absence and attendance provisions. The resulting report, Absence agreements in the UK public sector: a bitter pill to swallow? also revealed that management did not see sickness absence as part of health and safety, and in many cases, neither did the reps.

The onset of recession and the widespread threat of job cuts have resulted in a significant change to the profile of sickness absence since this booklet was last published by the Labour Research Department (LRD) in 2007. This updated edition is intended as a guide for union representatives and workers to their current rights in relation to sickness absence and sick pay, drawing on examples from a survey carried out by LRD to establish up-to-date information and trends.

Chapter 1 details the background and key developments currently affecting approaches to sickness absence, including the rise of “presenteeism” (coming into work when ill), the debate over public and private sector sickness absence levels, and the need to uncover the underlying causes of sickness absence.

Chapter 2 considers the key issues raised by sickness absence policies, looking at general approaches to absence management as well as specific policies, including changes introduced as a result of the new “Fit Note”.

Chapter 3 looks at special circumstances that regularly occur in relation to sickness absence, such as pregnancy sickness and sickness related to a disability, focusing in particular on the impact of the Equality Act 2010. This chapter also contains information about changes to the law governing sickness absence and holidays.

Chapter 4 outlines employees’ rights to sick pay; Chapter 5 looks at the law on sickness absence dismissals; and Chapter 6 gives a brief summary overview of the various laws that govern sickness absence.

Where the booklet uses examples of legal cases, there is a reference to the case. For example, where a case has been reported in the Industrial Relations Law Reports (IRLR), the IRLR reference is included. IRLR is published by LexisNexis Butterworths (, tel: 0845 370 1234).

Where a case is also available online, or has not been reported in the IRLR, the case reference is given and the judgment can be found on the appropriate website.

• Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) cases are available at

• Court of Appeal cases at

• European Court of Justice (ECJ) cases at