LRD Booklets March 2022

Sickness absence and sick pay - a guide for trade unions and working people



[page 3]

It is natural for anyone with a job to be unable to work at one time or another for health-related reasons. Being absent from work is always a worry, which is why a good understanding of sickness absence and a fair workplace policy for managing it are essentials in any work setting.

Whether it’s a brief illness, injury, or a more long-term condition — physical or mental — it can be potentially worrying in itself. But where work is involved, it throws up a range of issues which this booklet aims to address:

Understanding sickness: it’s a fact of life at any time, in any workplace, with known patterns and causes.

Protecting incomes: employees need financial security when illness or disability strikes; the statutory minimum level of sick pay falls well short and needs topping up.

Managing absence: procedures for managing sickness absence should be clear, fair and consistent with employers’ equality duties.

The Covid-19 pandemic gave the issue of sickness absence a new urgency, forcing the government and employers to adapt, with temporary changes to statutory arrangements and workplace policies. Unions and the TUC point out that lasting improvements are needed.

For the worker, there is the immediate financial question: will I lose income as a result of a sickness, injury or disabling condition? But there are longer-term questions too: how will this affect my relationship with my employer and my workmates, my ability to do the job, my future employment? And is there anything about the job itself that is damaging my wellbeing?

For the employer, the immediate question may be: “how will the work get done and what will it cost”? But they’ll have contractual and legal obligations to honour including the expectation that they will act reasonably, taking any “protected characteristics” into account.

For the union rep, sickness absence always has the potential to throw up tensions between individual workers and the employer. It can have an impact on other workers too, who may be wondering about the effects on their own work or workload; but equally they will want to feel that they’d be treated fairly “if it was me”.

Wider employment relations and workplace culture can be either enhanced or damaged, depending on how well sickness absence, disability and worker wellbeing are handled. And if work or poor management are themselves causing health problems, that has got to be sorted.

So, like managers, union reps themselves need some understanding of sickness and disability issues, what protections the law has to offer, what the workplace rules are or should be, and any aspects of the job or management that may be contributing. This booklet aims to contribute to that.