If you are employed, you will probably be paid while off sick, although not necessarily the same way as when you’re at work. Your employer may have more generous terms and additional support to that detailed below, which is the minimum legal level. Sometimes sick pay isn’t offered during probation periods.

If you are not working, check out the tips on looking after yourself if you are not in work.

What to do if you are unwell

Most people get sick sometimes. If you are an employee, you should contact your line manager as soon as you know you are too ill to work. Normally, this will be by phone, but your workplace may have another arrangement. 


If you are autistic, using a phone to contact someone you don’t know may not be possible for you - you can ask for an alternative way of contacting your employer, such as an email or text to your line manager as a reasonable adjustment


Some organisations ask you to contact a helpline to record your absence. They can ask you what is wrong and even suggest treatment, but you do not have to give them any personal information. Most people don’t want to know any more about your illness than to confirm that you are genuinely sick and when you will be back to work. Don’t forget to tell them about any work which has to be done whilst you are away.

  • If you are sick for less than 7 days, you do not have to give your employer any proof of your sickness, although you may have to complete a form. This is called ‘self-certification’.
  • If you are sick for more than 7 days in a row (including non-working days such as weekends), you have to give your employer a ‘fit note’ (sometimes called a sick note) from your GP or a hospital doctor. It will explain any changes, such as reduced hours or different tasks, that you will need to do on your return in order to be fit enough to return to work. The employer MUST make these changes if you are disabled.
  • If you are sick just before or during your holiday you can legally take that time as sick leave instead. You cannot be forced to take annual leave instead of sick leave.

There is specific guidance on when you are sick on the Gov.UK website

Long-Term Sickness

If you are sick for more than 4 weeks, you are considered long-term sick. Your annual leave (holiday) entitlement continues whilst you are sick.


Most companies will have an absence policy which explains how they manage periods of absence and illness


If you are often off sick or are off sick for an extended period you may trigger this process.

You can be dismissed whilst you are on long-term sick leave, but the employer has to have considered whether you can return on different conditions, such as working flexibly, doing different or less stressful work (after training if needed). They also have to consult with you about when you could return to work. If you think you have been unfairly dismissed, you can take your employer to an employment tribunal.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you are an employee, earn over £118 per week and have been off sick for more than 4 days in a row (including non-working days) you qualify forStatutory Sick Pay (SSP). You can be paid SSP for up to 28 weeks. This amount is paid by your employer and they then recover it from the Government. Your contract may entitle you to more pay, but you cannot be paid less.

Normally, during the first 3 days of any absence you won’t be eligible for sick pay, which starts from day 4 onwards. The exception to this is if you have already received SSP in within the last 8 weeks. 

There are different rules for agricultural workers.

You are no longer eligible for SSP if you have a continuous period of ‘linked’ sickness lasting more than 3 years. ‘Linked’ periods of sickness must:

  • last 4 or more days each
  • be 8 weeks or less apart

If you are not eligible for SSP or your eligibility runs out, you may be able to claim Universal credit Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).