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Employers tricking people out of sick pay, says Citizens Advice

Unscrupulous employers are trying to avoid paying sick pay to people who are too ill to work by using tactics such as taking them off rotas and cutting their wages, reveals Citizens Advice.

The charity is urging people who need to take time off work for illness to check if they’re eligible for sick pay, after new analysis shows that demand for advice on getting sick pay peaks in February.  

Citizens Advice helped people with more than 1800 problems with sick pay and sick leave in February 2016, 11% more than average for the rest of the year.

People are entitled to be paid if they’re off work for four working days or more, and earn more than £112 a week.

However, evidence from the charity shows that some employers are exploiting confusion around the rules to try and get away with not paying people who need time off for illness or injury.

Tactics used by employers include:

  • Cancelling people’s shifts after they call in sick, so that it looks like they aren’t meant to be working

  • Reducing people’s wages and downplaying their working hours so they don’t meet the £112 earnings threshold

  • Saying that they need a GP note as evidence they’re ill for even a few days off, even though people can self-certify for up to 7 days

  • Refusing to fill in a HMRC sick pay form, which would make employers explain their reasons for not paying

  • Sacking people rather than paying them.

Despite employers’ attempts to dodge sick pay, people who have their hours changed for example will often still be eligible - but don’t realise that they are.

Examples seen by Citizens Advice include one man who worked 5 days a week in a factory, but had a casual contract stating he worked 7 hours. When he was off sick, his employer tried to deny him sick pay on the basis he didn’t work enough hours or earn enough, although in practice he did.

A carer on a zero hour contract contacted Citizens Advice for help after she was signed off for 7 days for a work-related injury. Her employer cancelled her shifts for the next 3 weeks in an attempt to argue that she wasn’t due to be working - whereas in reality she’d already committed to the work.

With cold and flu season underway, the charity is urging people who are too ill to work to check if they are eligible for sick pay, and to seek advice if they believe they are but their employer won’t pay.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said:

“Sick pay is a basic right which many workers are entitled to.  Although some employers make genuine mistakes working out whether workers are eligible, others are trying to confuse people about their rights so they can get away with not paying up.

“Getting paid time off to recover from illness is not only important for people’s health, but also prevents them from being left with a hole in their finances that they can struggle to recover from.

“If you think you’re owed sick pay but your employer won’t pay, contact Citizens Advice for help.”

How does sick pay work?

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is payable for up to 28 weeks of sick leave and is currently £88.45 per week. Some workers receive what’s called contractual sick pay on top of SSP, so they’ll be paid full pay for a certain number of weeks for example. SSP is paid by your employer in the same way that you normally get paid.

Who is entitled to sick pay?

You don’t have to be a full time employee to get statutory sick pay (SSP). You can also get it if you’re on a fixed term contract, work part-time, work through an agency or on a zero-hours contract.

You qualify if:

  • You normally earn more than £112 a week.

  • You’re sick for more than four days in a row, including non-working days. You’ll get sick pay from the fourth working day of your illness, unless you’ve been off sick in the last 8 weeks - then you’ll get paid from the first working day.

  • You follow your employer’s’ rules about reporting sickness absence. Most employers ask you to provide a sick note if you’re off sick for more than 7 days for example. If there aren’t any rules, make sure you call in sick as soon as you need to take time off work, and ask if there’s anything else you need to do to record your sickness.

Top tips

  • Entitled to extra sick pay? Some employers pay more than statutory sick pay, for example paying your wages in full for a certain time period. This is called contractual sick pay. The details should be in your contract, staff handbook or on the intranet.

  • Work a zero hours contract? If you’re on a zero hours contract and work regularly for the same employer you’re still entitled to sick pay as long as you normally earn more than £112 a week before tax.

  • Employer says you’re not entitled? Ask them to fill in the government sick pay form PDF explaining their reasons. Once you’ve got it, contact HM revenue and customs (HMRC). They will ask you about your circumstances and make a decision about whether you are owed sick pay or not.

  • Employer still won’t pay? If HMRC have said that you are owed sick pay, then your employer has to pay this to you. If they refuse, contact ACAS early conciliation service who will negotiate with your employer. The final step is taking your employer to a tribunal - though beware that you will need to pay a fee.

Notes to editors

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  5. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.
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