You’ve probably noticed wording in your sickness policy that makes it clear if employees don’t comply with your procedure, they risk the payment of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

It is not open to an employer to withhold SSP where the employee provides medical evidence from their GP late. For example, you may require the certificate to be given to you on day 8 of absence, and the employee might not get around to giving you a certificate until day 10.

An employer is allowed to not pay SSP if the employee has failed to notify them of the absence, and there is no good reason to cause the delay in notification. For example, the employee is supposed to notify you of their absence on the first day of incapacity – if they didn’t notify you and essentially were absent without leave for the first few days and told you on day 8, then potentially Section 156(2)(a) Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 applies. So, for example, if the employee had gone AWOL effectively for the first week and then telephoned in, the employer is entitled to withhold for the duration of the delay.

Employers may introduce something more onerous as a matter of contract. For example, that the employee has to report in sick by a particular time on the first day of their absence and thereafter at regular intervals. That cannot override the statutory scheme when it comes to SSP but if more generous contractual sick pay is available, such as payment for the waiting days when SSP doesn’t apply or payment of full pay or something more than SSP, then the employer will be able to follow what they have said in their contract and withhold the extra payment if the employee has not complied with the rules.

Under SSP rules, HMRC in its page ‘Statutory Sick Pay: employee fitness to work’, states that “if an employer decides to stop payment of SSP, they should explain their decision to the employee”. The employee will be entitled to a written statement from the employer and can seek a formal decision on their entitlement from HMRC Statutory Disputes Payment team. You might like to refer to the ‘Stop Payment of SSP Section’ of that Guidance. There is an example letter to notify the employee that you will not be paying them.

There will be occasions where the employer has real reasons to believe that the person may not have been unfit for work. For example, they may have requested annual leave and that request has been rejected, so the individual then phones in sick. Clearly the employer would have to do as much investigation as they possibly could around the circumstances. For example, if the individual provides a doctors fit note, HMRC advises that that should be accepted as conclusive proof of incapacity for SSP purposes, even if there is very strong evidence to the contrary. The employer might need to get their own medical advice or to ask HMRC to arrange for the employee to be examined by the medical services team. Clearly that only works in the case of a health condition that is likely to be ongoing.

It might be possible to ask, for example, a GP who has provided a backdated sick note when their consultation with the individual was and providing evidence timing that the employee has been covering up them being perfectly well on the days in question. Evidence as to their activity from social media may also be relevant, eg. photographs of the employee swanning around Spain when the employee told the employer they were in bed and that they were so unwell that they couldn’t get up.

Refreshing Law Ltd
6 April 2023