This is a preview. To continue reading please log in or Register to read this article

XpertHR occupational sick pay schemes survey 2015: keeping employees and employers informed

Author: Jo Jacobs

Our research on occupational sick pay schemes covers how employees inform their organisation that they are sick, the evidence employees need to provide to their employer, and the detail of organisations' sick pay policies.

Drawing on information provided by 539 organisations in both the private and the public sectors, the report findings include the following:

  • More than half (54%) of organisations require notification that an employee is off sick before their start time or the start of a shift.
  • More than one-third (34.7%) of organisations specify that the employee must make daily contact when they are off sick in order to qualify for occupational sick pay.
  • Almost four-fifths (79%) of respondents do not plan to change their sick pay policies or rates offered during the next 12 months.

The accompanying report covers the level of occupational sick pay offered by organisations, including when it takes effect, whether or not benefits increase with length of service and how much employees are paid while off sick.

About this survey report

This summary report covers key findings from the 2015 survey on occupational sick pay schemes, including employee communication regarding sickness and changes to organisations' sick pay policies over time. Our accompanying report looks at the rates of sick pay offered by organisations.

XpertHR's benchmarking service has the full data on all the questions from this survey, including:

  • when an employee needs to tell their organisation that they are off sick, and the frequency of notification over the sickness period;
  • whether or not organisations have made changes, or plan to make changes, to their sick pay benefits; and
  • a detailed breakdown of findings by organisation size and broad industrial sector.

Informing the organisation of sickness absence

Organisations are consistent with regards to when employees need to notify them that they are sick in order to qualify for occupational sick pay. The majority want notification before an employee's start time or the start of a shift:

  • 15.5% stipulate "any time" before; while
  • 38.5% ask to be notified within a "set time" before the start.

One-third (33.5%) of organisations allow employees to inform them within a set time after the start of the working day/shift but only a very small percentage (4.4%) are happy to know at any time on the first day of absence. A total of 3.4% of respondents said they have different requirements for different staff groups. The full results for respondent organisations' notification periods are available on XpertHR Benchmarking.

Generally, organisations want to know that a member of staff is not coming to work by 10am on the day of absence at the latest, or within an hour of the employee's start time. A minority of organisations do, however, ask for notification within a smaller window of time, for example, 15 minutes before the work start time.

Contact once an employee is off sick

Once an employee has provided initial notification that they are off sick, organisations have varied procedures on contact thereafter. More than one-third (34.7%) of organisations require contact every day and 12.2% require notification every day until a fit note or medical certificate is supplied.

For 16% of organisations, regular contact is required after initial contact - for example, every two to three days. A similar percentage of organisations (15.6%) only require contact on the first day of absence. Organisations' policies vary as to whether the sickness is long or short term but 3.4% of organisations only require weekly contact and 7.4% of organisations leave the decision on the frequency of contact up to the line manager.

Chart 1: What sickness notification are employees required to give?

What sickness notification are employees required to give

n = 499 organisations.
Source: XpertHR.

Employees failing to notify the organisation

Line managers tend to have jurisdiction on whether or not an employee will lose a day's occupational sick pay if they fail to notify the organisation of their absence (as specified in their organisation's requirements) - this is the case in 70.8% of organisations. Only 6.3% of organisations say the employee will lose this pay, while 22.8% say they will not.

Providing evidence of illness

Almost all (94.8%) organisations follow the same evidence rules for their sick pay scheme as those for statutory sick pay (SSP), and there is little variation by size or sector of organisation. 

The evidence rules for SSP are that employees must provide proof of their illness after seven days off in the form of a fit note (previously a "sick note") from their doctor. They will have been entitled to SSP before this point as SSP is paid when an employee is sick for four days in a row (see Employment law manual > Sick pay), including non-working days, and organisations start paying SSP from the fourth day (if the employee normally works that day).

Several organisations that do not follow the same evidence rules as those for SSP required self-certification from day one of the absence, and these organisations span many sectors, from transport and storage to public education, and professional and business services to not for profit.

One retail and wholesale organisation said that the same rules as SSP usually applied with the exception of "sickness following or preceding a booked holiday period or bank holiday where additional evidence is required (a doctor's fit note or SC2 - an employee's statement of sickness form)".

Changes to occupational sick pay policies over time

Most organisations have not recently changed, nor do they plan to change, their sick pay policies or rates offered. Only 13.3% of organisations made changes to their occupational sick pay rates or policies during the past 12 months, while 21% plan to make such changes over the next 12 months.

Changes that respondents have made within the past 12 months include increasing or decreasing their sick pay benefits, with a few deciding to pay only occupational sick pay once an employee has passed probation. Others formalised their policies rather than leaving sick pay up to the line manager's discretion, in a bid to avoid inconsistencies within the organisation.

Organisations in the public sector are the most likely (at 25%) to make changes during the next year, despite only 7.3% of them making changes in the past year. Most of these have a particular intention, such as "reviewing current trigger points" or to "introduce a minimum qualifying period". Only a few organisations plan to review their policy on a general basis.

Monitoring the cost of sickness absence and attendance allowances

Respondents were asked whether or not their organisation monitors the cost of sickness absence effectively, and 54.7% said that it did, while 45.2% disagreed with this statement. The level of agreement is higher among public-sector organisations, with almost two-thirds (64.8%) believing that the cost of sickness absence is monitored effectively and 35.2% disagreeing with this.

Approximately two-thirds (64.5%) of organisations are content that their sick pay policy supports the reduction of sickness absence at their organisation. This does, however, mean that just over one-third (35.5%) of organisations do not believe their sick pay policy helps reduce sickness absence.

It is unusual for organisations to operate an attendance bonus or allowance scheme - only 7.2% of organisations have such a policy in place. Of the small number operating this allowance, there is quite a contrast in the amount paid with 51.9% of these organisations making a payment of less than £175 per year and 40.7% making payments of £1,000 or more. Payments are typically given for full attendance during a 12-month period.

Employees abusing sick pay benefits

There is a mixed picture in terms of whether or not organisations agree with the statement that "there is no evidence that my organisation's sick pay policy is abused by employees", with 56.8% agreeing and 43.3% disagreeing.

The difference is more marked among organisations with more than 1,000 employees, with the majority (62%) of these indicating that there is evidence of employees abusing the sick pay policy. Only 38% agree there is "no evidence" that the policy is abused.

A summary of sick pay policy content

XpertHR examined sick pay policies provided by a number of respondents and found great variation in the length and detail of these policies.

There is also a difference in terms of the "formality" of the policies - while some organisations come across as sympathetic to employees taking sick leave, others take a harder line. For instance, one organisation told employees to "stop and think" about the impact on others when they were last ill, stating there are "direct and indirect costs incurred" by the employer. Another example of a harder stance is at one organisation where employees who fall sick at work need to "gain permission" from their line manager in order to leave the workplace.

In most cases, only the employee themselves can contact the organisation when they will not be coming to work due to sickness. However, a small number of organisations state that if this is not possible, someone else (such as a partner, relative or friend) can contact them on the employee's behalf. In one case, if someone else phones on the employee's behalf, the employee is also asked to make personal contact as soon as possible.

Several policies state that "text messages are not acceptable" when notifying the organisation of sickness absence, and some say this is also true for answerphone messages and emails. Other organisations stipulate that answerphone messages can be left, but the manager will phone the employee back. Several organisations ask the employee to call the HR department if their line manager does not answer the phone. In one organisation, sick employees must call the reception and leave a message that includes a contact number in case their manager wishes to speak to them.

A high proportion of policies state that employees are expected to arrange and attend medical appointments outside core working hours, with organisations often requesting appointments to be made at the beginning or end of the day. While a small number of organisations say that annual leave needs to be taken for a medical appointment during work hours, others say that no leave has to be taken for a short appointment and the employee will continue to receive normal pay.

Looking at a specific example, differences in policies are seen in the area of fertility treatment. One organisation says it is sympathetic to the effects of this treatment and advises employees to contact HR for support. Another classifies fertility treatment as elective surgery, meaning it may be deemed a lifestyle choice - in which case OSP is only paid at the discretion of the line manager, on a case by case basis, following advice from HR.

At several organisations, employees are made aware that they may be required to submit to an independent medical examination during or after any absence from work due to sickness or injury. In a few instances there is a mention of a home visit from the organisation. In most cases this relates to long-term leave but one organisation says this may be "very soon" after going off sick in the first place, namely "within the first couple of days".

Several organisations specify that they will reimburse fees for medical certificates if employees have had to pay for evidence to show they are off sick.

Our research

This XpertHR research is based on a survey carried out in June 2015, and uses information provided by 539 organisations, which together employ more than 1.27 million workers. The breakdown by economic sector of the respondents is as follows:

  • 372 (69%) are in private-sector services;
  • 112 (20.8%) are in manufacturing and production; and
  • 55 (10.2%) are in the public sector.

Broken down by workforce size, the respondents comprise:

  • 262 (48.6%) with between one and 249 employees;
  • 162 (30.1%) employing 250 to 999; and
  • 115 (21.3%) with 1,000 or more employees.

The vast majority (93.5%) of respondent organisations offer one or more occupational sick pay schemes to some or all of their employees that are more generous than statutory sick pay.

Our main analysis is based on the 504 organisations that operate a sick pay scheme for at least some of their staff. Where respondents have more than one occupational sick pay scheme their answers relate to the scheme that covers the largest employee group and includes new starters. Statutory sick pay only (currently £88.45 per week) is paid to all employees by a further 35 respondents (6.5%).

What should I do now?