It’s that time of year again, where half the office is hit by the seasonal flu virus, leaving some offices virtually empty due to staff sickness but are UK employees fully aware of what sick pay they are entitled to?

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Research from Direct Line Life Insurance has revealed that more than 2.5 million workers are unaware that they would face a significant reduction in their salary if they were unwell and unable to work.

There is a common misconception that employers will continue to pay an employee their full salary if they were off sick, with people believing the would receive it for three and a half months. In reality, 43% of firms reduce an employee’s wages to statutory sick pay after two weeks of an employee being out sick. One in six firms (16%) immediately switch to paying statutory sick pay once an employee has been off work for four days.

Trevor Bush, Head of Direct Line Life Insurance, commented: “This research highlights a worrying disconnect between peoples’ expectations and what they would actually be entitled to if they were to unexpectedly fall ill. Statutory sick pay is significantly lower than the national average salary and people are only eligible for 28 weeks, so those with long-term conditions could find themselves in struggling financially if they are unable to work for a long period of time.”

Employees are entitled to statutory sick pay if they are too ill to work and have been off work more than four days in a row. Eligibility lasts up to 28 weeks at a rate of £89.35 a week which is less than a fifth of the average UK weekly wage of £510. What is concerning is that only 4% of the British population actually know how much they would receive in statutory sick pay and 8% have never heard of statutory sick pay.

The research also found that salaries may not be the only thing affected by absence due to illness, one in five firms that pay bonuses withhold these if the employee has been off work on long-term sick leave. Also, more than a third of firms choose to pay employee bonuses based on pro-rata analysis of days worked and 14% will pay a discretionary reduced rate.

Employees also need to be aware of the time it will take for them to qualify for sick pay as almost a third (30%) of HR professionals stated that their company’s qualifying period for sick pay schemes is between 1 and 2 years. Formal documentation is also necessary to authorise any period of sickness according to 92% of HR professionals and 36% said additional paperwork would be necessary if the employee was absent due to unusual reasons.

Trevor Bush continues: “With 90 per cent of organisations requiring formal documentation to authorise sick leave, it’s important for people to be able to quickly secure sick notes or medical certificates when they’re unwell. This is why Direct Line has recently partnered with Doctor Care Anywhere, a virtual GP consultation service, so that in the event of non-urgent medical enquiries, customers can consult with a GP quickly and easily, issuing sick notes/medical certificates, prescriptions and referrals within a matter of minutes. This provides policyholders and their families with more convenient appointments, helping them avoid potentially long waits for consultations”.