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Every autumn, employers see an increase in the number of staff on sick leave due to the flu. Whilst in this case employees don’t take more than seven days off work, some employees and employers may not know the government framework surrounding sick leave. Our experience of employment law means we can clearly explain where you stand with sick leave, so you feel confident and secure with your position.

Taking sick leave

Employees who are off work for over seven days will need to obtain a fit note from their doctor. If they happen to be ill during or just before their holiday, they can take that time as sick leave instead.

Proof of sickness and fit notes

If you’re off sick for more than seven days in a row, you will need to hand your employer a fit note (previously called a sick note), from a hospital doctor or GP. This will often have a charge attached if you ask for one before the seventh day.

This note will tell your employer that you are either ‘not fit for work’ or that you ‘may be fit for work’. If your note says that you may be fit for work, your employer will need to discuss with you any changes that can be made to see you return to work (such as different working hours). If there is no agreement between employer and employee, then the employee must be treated as not fit for work.

Employees should keep the original version of the fit note, but employers should take a copy.


Employers may ask employees to fill in a form to confirm an absence of up to seven days, upon returning to work. Employers usually have their own version of this form, called ‘self-certification’.

Sick leave and holiday

Statutory holiday entitlement is accrued whilst an employee is on sick leave, no matter how long that may be. Additionally, any statutory holiday entitlement that isn’t used due to illness can be carried over to the next leave year.

If an employee happens to be ill during or just before their holiday, they are able to take this as sick leave instead. Similarly, employers can allow employees to take paid holiday whilst on sick leave, which is a good choice if an employee doesn’t qualify for sick pay. However, all rules relating to sick pay would still apply in this instance.


When holiday leave is changed into sick leave, employees will be paid Statutory Sick Pay, which counts towards the amount of holiday pay they receive. There are two exceptions to this:

  1. Employees who don’t qualify for Statutory Sick Pay
  2. They are being paid ‘occupational sick pay’ and off work

Returning to work

If employees have become disabled due to their sickness, employers should make changes to their working conditions. These changes, including shorter working hours or adapting equipment are known as ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Long-term sickness

An employee may be considered long-term sick if they are off work for four weeks or more. They are still entitled to annual leave. Employers do have the right to dismiss long-term sick employees as a last resort. In order to do this, however, employers must:

  • Discuss with their employee about when they could return to work, and the possibility of health improvement
  • Assess whether an employee may return to work if reasonable adjustments have been considered


If long-term sick employees feel they have been unfairly dismissed, they can take their case to an employment tribunal.

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