Absence from work – a simple guide

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Sickness is a big reason for absence from work.

What are the different types of absence from work?

Staff might take time off for various different reasons, many of which offer them protection from unfair treatment. Absence can be short term or long term. Broadly, absence will fall into a few categories:  holiday, sickness absence, family related leave, bereavement, or extreme weather or other external factors preventing staff getting to work.

How many days’ holiday are you entitled to?

All employees and workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave in the UK.  This is the basic statutory entitlement, and employers can give more holiday. The basic entitlement can include bank holidays.

Can my employer refuse my holiday request?

Yes, they can refuse to let you take holiday if you don’t give enough notice, or if they’ll be understaffed if you take time off, or if you don’t have enough entitlement left. Holiday isn’t usually the best category to use for unplanned leave.  So, it’s best to check how much notice you have to give and request holiday in good time.

What are the most common reasons for short term absence?

Minor coughs and colds tend to be the prime cause of absence from work, along with stomach upsets, headaches and migraines.  These all tend to lead to the odd day off sick here and there, rather than long term absence, and should be treated differently to long term sickness absence.

What are the most common causes of long term sickness absence?

Long term sickness absence can be viewed differently in different organisations.  Some will take “long term” to mean anything more than a week, others will mean more than a month’s absence. There isn’t a set period above which you’re on long term sickness absence.

Mental ill-health, such as stress, depression or anxiety, along with musculoskeletal conditions are the most common causes of long term sickness absence.  All these conditions are typical of the type of condition that needs a period of treatment, and building back up to a return to work, potentially with ongoing treatment or adjustments required.

How do you deal with sickness absence?

Employers should have a detailed absence policy covering the various types of absence.  It should set out parameters and expectations for both parties. This could include:

  • How to report absence – is a text ok or must you call? Can someone call on your behalf? Do you have to contact them every day?
  • How many days’ absence you can self-certify, and when you need to get a Fit Note
  • Information on if/when an employer will start absence management procedures i.e. how many days’ absence will trigger formal procedures?
  • Information on any services available to help you get medical advice, or help to return to work, such as an employee assistance programme.
  • Details of sick pay entitlements

Long term sickness absence should be dealt with differently to short term absences or frequent short term absences.  It suggests that something more serious is going on, and that you might have a disability. Employers therefore need to be conscious of the fact that you may be protected from discrimination because of a disability, so they should get a full medical report on your condition. If you are or may be disabled, your employer must consider whether any reasonable adjustments can be made to reduce the impact of your condition on your working environment.

UK workers are entitled to paid holiday leave.

What does family friendly leave include?

The term “family friendly leave” includes maternity, paternity, and adoption leave, parental leave, shared parental leave, time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, compassionate leave, parental bereavement leave, and so on.  We’ve got more information about taking time off work for family reasons and maternity pay elsewhere on our website. Check back as we add to our content – helping with pregnancy/maternity issues in the workplace is one of our particular areas of expertise.

Which family members count for bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is also known as compassionate leave, and is the type of leave you take when someone close to you has passed away.  Your staff handbook will usually list the close relatives in respect of whom you can take bereavement leave – typically this will include parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, children, nieces, nephews and step relations in those categories.

However, with each family being unique and often blended, it’s more difficult to say where the line should be drawn or to generalise about how each situation should be dealt with.

Note that there are specific provisions for the loss of a child – see parental bereavement leave, below.

Do you get full pay on bereavement leave?

Bereavement or compassionate leave can be paid or unpaid, depending on the circumstances, and often how close a relative has passed away. Usually, some days will be paid, and whilst the employer may allow more days to be taken as bereavement leave, they may stop paying. It’s up to the employer how many days’ paid or unpaid leave to give in this category – the main thing is that they treat all employees the same.

If you need more leave than is offered as bereavement leave, but don’t want to or can’t afford to stay on unpaid leave, then you could ask to take annual leave.

Who can take Parental Bereavement Leave?

If you are an employee and your child dies before they reach age 18, or you have a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, you can get parental bereavement leave.  The rules also apply to adoptive parents, partners of a birth or adoptive parent, or parents who had help from a surrogate parent.  There is no minimum service required – any employee can take Parental Bereavement Leave from the start of their employment.

You can also get Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay if you’ve been employed for at least 26 weeks before the death or stillbirth. See here for the current rate of Statutory Bereavement Pay.

You can take 2 weeks’ Parental Bereavement Leave.  This can be taken as 2 weeks together, or 2 weeks separately, or just one week.  You can take leave immediately after the death or stillbirth or later on, as long as it finishes within 56 weeks of the death or stillbirth.

Do I get paid if I can’t get to work because of snow?

If your workplace is open, but you can’t get there because of snow – or other extreme weather conditions – then you won’t necessarily be paid. If your workplace is closed, though, you should still be paid.

If you can work from home, or another location that you can get to, you should work as normal – and would be entitled to be paid.  So, if your employer has another office nearer your home, perhaps you could work from there, rather than your usual location. Or you could work from home.

Many employers will have an extreme weather policy, setting out when you’ll be paid when the weather or transport difficulties get in the way.  It might be necessary to take holiday.  If schools or nurseries are closed and your childcare falls away because of poor weather, you could take emergency unpaid leave if you can’t work from home with children around.

Need more help?

If you need more help with the subjects covered here then do reach out to our expert employment law solicitors.  You can speak to our employment solicitors online via email employment@qlaw.co.uk or call us on 03300 020 863.

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