HR policies

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Do you need a sickness absence policy? + free template

Do you need a sickness absence policy? + free template

A good company takes care of its people, both in sickness and in health. Your employees will do their best work if they’re healthy and energised.

Supporting your employees in times of sickness isn’t only the good, human thing to do, but it minimises the impact of sickness absences on your business. The sooner they get back to 100%, the sooner they can carry on doing their best work.

In my years as an HR advisor for small businesses, I’ve had to help companies create unique HR policies and procedures that codify their culture and drive their business growth. That included making sickness absence policies that balanced understanding with productivity.

I hope this post will show you how to achieve that balance and make a sickness absence policy that is compassionate and fair, and sets clear rules and expectations for coming back to the office.

Understanding sickness absence policies

A sickness absence policy sets the procedures and guidelines regarding employee absences due to ill health.

Your small business sickness absence policy ensures that your employees are treated fairly and are supported when they are too ill to work while establishing clear guidelines about their return to work.

Small business owners in the UK are required to pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to eligible employees who are unable to work due to illness, payable for up to 28 weeks. For reference, the average number of sick days in the UK is about 5.7 days per year.

Your employees may qualify for SSP if they have been off work due to illness for four days or more.

An employee can self-certify their sickness absence without a medical note for the first seven days of sickness, as long as they inform you as their employer. After seven days in a row, the employee must file a fit note from a healthcare professional, such as a:

  • General physician
  • Registered nurse
  • Occupational therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • Physiotherapist

Challenges for small businesses

When even one of your team members takes an extended sickness absence, it can disrupt the day-to-day operations of your small business and put added pressure on the rest of your team – which is where an attendance policy may come in handy.

That’s also why you ought to make a sickness absence policy for your small business. It can help fill in the gaps and manage sickness absences as they come, in a way that supports and values your employees and makes sure your business stays running.

It's also a good way for you to understand when too many sick days mean you require disciplinary action, as much as you want to do everything you can so you don't come to this with your employee.

Sickness policy template

To give you a starting point, I’ll show you the sickness absence policy template we use at Charlie. It works for us, and I hope it works for you and your organisation. Feel free to customise it to suit your company values and processes.

Charlie’s sickness and absence policy template

This policy sets out how [COMPANY NAME] handles the personal data of its employees, customers, suppliers and other third parties.

This policy is intended to ensure that we:

  • Comply with data protection law and follow good practice;
  • Protect the rights of team members, customers and partners;
  • Are transparent about how we store and process individuals’ data;
  • Are protected from the risks of a data breach.

The purpose of this policy is to enable [COMPANY NAME] to monitor and support the health and well-being of all team members while minimising the impact of sickness absence on the Company.

The policy sets out our arrangements for sick pay and for reporting and managing sickness absences.

This policy does not form part of any employee’s contract of employment, and we reserve the right to amend it at any time.


If you are unable to work because of ill health or injury, you should telephone your manager as early as possible, and no later than the time when you are normally expected to work. You should telephone your manager personally - it is not sufficient to notify the Company of your absence via text message or email.

When you call in you should tell your manager what is wrong with you, how long you are likely to be away from work, how and where you can be contacted while you are absent, and detail any outstanding or urgent work that requires attention in your absence.

If you have not been signed off by your doctor you must call your manager on each day of your absence. If you have been signed off for an extended period of sickness you must keep your manager informed of your progress on at least a weekly basis.

If you are ill or injured during a period of annual leave, to the extent that you would have been incapable of work, you may choose to treat that period of incapacity as sick leave, and reclaim the affected days of annual leave. This is subject to you providing a doctor’s medical certificate and/or other relevant supporting evidence.

Absence that has not been notified according to the terms of this policy will be treated as unauthorised absence and dealt with under our disciplinary procedure.


If the total period of your sickness absence is seven calendar days or less (including weekends and bank holidays), you must complete and submit a Self Certification form.

For absence of more than seven calendar days you must obtain a certificate from your doctor (a ‘statement of fitness for work’) stating that you are not fit for work and giving the reason(s). This should be forwarded to your manager as soon as possible. If your sickness absence continues beyond the expiry date of your doctor’s certificate, a further certificate must be provided by your doctor.

If we are concerned about the reason for an absence, or by the frequency of your short-term absences, we may require a medical certificate for each absence regardless of duration. You may expense the cost of this to the Company as long as you provide a doctor’s invoice to corroborate the cost.

If you wish to return to work earlier than initially recommended by your doctor you must provide the Company with a certificate from your doctor confirming that you are fit for work.

Once your doctor has certified you as fit for work, we will discuss with you how best to facilitate your return to work, taking account of any advice from your doctor.

Statutory sick pay

You may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you satisfy the relevant statutory requirements. The qualifying days for SSP are Monday to Friday, if these are your usual days of work, or if not as set out in your contract of employment. No SSP is payable for the first three consecutive days of absence. It starts on the fourth day of absence and may be payable for up to 28 weeks. The rate of SSP is set by the government in April each year.

Any payments made above and beyond SSP may be made at the Company’s absolute discretion.

Company sick pay

You are entitled to Company sick pay provided that you comply with the sickness absence reporting procedure set out in this policy, and with any other requests made under this policy. If you do not comply with this, we reserve the right to withhold Company sick pay.

There is no contractual entitlement to Company sick pay, which is at the Company’s absolute discretion, and the fact that you might receive Company sick pay in respect of an absence (or absences) does not mean that you are entitled to Company sick pay in respect of further absence(s).


After you have completed [COMPANY NAME] you will be entitled to receive payment for periods of absence during any twelve month period, calculated from the first day of absence, as follows:

  • (a) Full salary (inclusive of any SSP due) for the first [number] [days OR weeks OR months] in any 12 month period; and
  • (b) Half salary (inclusive of any SSP due) for the next [number] [days OR weeks OR months] in any 12 month period.


After you have completed [number] months’ continuous service you will be entitled to receive your full salary during any periods of sickness absence up to an aggregate of [number] weeks in any [number]-week period. These payments shall be inclusive of any SSP due.

While you are on your probationary period and while you work your notice period you will be paid only SSP for any periods of sickness absence.

Return to work interviews

All sickness absence is recorded and monitored closely. After you return to work after any period of sickness absence we will arrange for you to have a return to work interview. This meeting enables us to confirm the details of your absence, and also gives you the opportunity to raise any concerns or questions you may have, and to bring any relevant matters to our attention.

Medical report

We may ask you to consent to an independent medical examination by a doctor nominated by us, at our expense. Alternatively we may seek to obtain a report from your doctor, subject to your consent. In either event you will be asked to agree that any report may be disclosed to us, and that we may discuss the contents of the report with our advisers and the relevant doctor.

You have the right to withhold your consent to this, in which case the Company may need to assess your state of health and its impact on your continued employment without the benefit of professional medical advice.

All medical reports and related information will be held securely, and kept confidential in accordance with the Company’s Data Protection Policy.

Long term sickness absence

We are committed to helping our team members return to work from long-term sickness absence. We will, where appropriate and possible, consider any of these measures:

  • Obtaining medical advice.
  • Making reasonable adjustments to the workplace, your role, and our working practices.
  • Redeploying you into another position.
  • Agreeing a return to work programme.

You can expect to be contacted from time to time by the Company while you are on long term sick leave in order to discuss your health, the expected length of your absence from work, and any of your work that requires someone else’s attention.

Sickness absence meetings procedure

We may apply this procedure whenever we consider it necessary, particularly if your health and/or sickness absence record has become cause for concern and merits further investigation and discussion.

We will endeavour to give you reasonable written notice of the date, time and place of a sickness absence meeting. This written notification will detail our concerns and explain why the meeting is being called.

The meeting will usually be conducted by your manager, and will normally be attended by a member of the HR department. You may bring a colleague with you to the meeting should you wish. This individual may make representations and ask questions, but will not be allowed to answer questions on your behalf.

Confirmation of any decision made at or following a meeting, the reasons for the decision, and the right of appeal (if applicable) will be given to you in writing as soon as is practicable.

If at any time it is considered that you have taken or are taking sickness absence when you are not unwell, matters may then be dealt with according to the Disciplinary Procedure.

Stage one: First sickness absence meeting

The purposes of this initial meeting may include:

  • Discussing and determining the reasons for sickness absence.
  • Determining how long a period of long-term absence is likely to last.
  • Where you have been absent on a number of occasions, determining the likelihood of further absences.
  • In cases of short-term, frequent absences, setting a target for improved attendance within a certain timescale.
  • Explaining the impact that the absences are having on colleagues, the team and the business as a whole.
  • Considering whether medical advice is required.
  • Considering any medical advice, already received.
  • Considering any measures that may improve your health and/or attendance record.

A summary of matters discussed, and any agreed actions will be sent to you afterwards.

Stage two: subsequent sickness absence meeting(s)

Depending on the outcome of the first sickness absence meeting, a further meeting or meetings may become necessary. The purposes of such meetings may include:

  • Discussing the reasons for your ongoing absence(s), and the impact of these on the business.
  • Determining how long a period of long-term absence is likely to last.
  • Where you have been absent on a number of occasions, determining the likelihood of further absences.
  • Considering whether medical advice or further medical advice is required.
  • Considering the application of any such medical advice.
  • Discussing your ability to return to/remain in your job in view of your capabilities and of the needs of the business.
  • Discussing any adjustments that can reasonably be made to enable your return, and a return to work programme.
  • Considering redeploying you into an alternative role.
  • Agreeing a way forward, actions that will be taken, and a time-scale for review. At this stage you may be warned that you are at risk of dismissal.

A summary of matters discussed, and any agreed actions will be sent to you afterwards.

Stage three: final sickness absence meeting

If necessary we may invite you to a further meeting, the purpose of which will be:

  • To review the meetings that have taken place, and recap the matters discussed with you.
  • Where you remain on long-term sickness absence, to consider whether there have been any changes with regards to a possible return to work, either to your original role or to a suitable alternative.
  • To consider any further matters that you wish to raise.
  • To consider whether it is reasonably likely that you will either return to work or achieve the desired level of attendance within a reasonable timeframe.
  • To consider the possible termination of your employment (this will normally be with full notice or payment in lieu of notice).


You have the right to appeal against the outcome of any stage of the above procedure. You should make your appeal in writing to your manager within one week of the date on which the decision was sent to you

Where practicable, the appeal meeting will be conducted by a more senior manager who has not previously been involved in the case. You may bring a colleague to the appeal meeting if you wish.

Following an appeal the original decision may be confirmed, revoked or changed, and you will receive this in writing, usually within one week of the appeal hearing. This decision will be final and there will be no further right of appeal.

If you decide to appeal against your dismissal you should note that the date of your dismissal will not be delayed pending the outcome of the appeal. However, if your appeal is successful, the decision to dismiss will be revoked and we will ensure that you suffer no loss of continuity or pay.

Key components of an effective sickness absence policy

Having a sickness absence policy goes above being an HR procedural task. It’s about having a balance between supporting your sick team members and making sure the business stays on course.

There are a few key components that you’ll want your sickness policy to have.

Notification procedures

When your team member comes down with the sniffles, who do they call and what do they say? Your sickness policy should be clear about how they notify you of their sickness absence, whether that be a quick call or an email. That way their absence can be accounted for without much fuss

Certification and documentation

Employees only need to make a self-certification for shorter absences. When they are out for more than a week, they should get a fit note from their doctor. Keep accurate records of their fit notes to keep track of any patterns - both to take their health seriously and to be aware of any frequent absences.

Sick pay entitlements

All business owners in the UK need to pay £109.40 per week in SSP up to 28 weeks for extended sickness leave absences. The Charlie sickness absence policy goes above and beyond this minimum. During any 12 months, Charlie will offer:

  • 20 days of full pay
  • 20 days at 50% pay
  • 20 days at 25% pay
CharlieHR's sick pay entitlements

I hold this up as an example for other small businesses to follow. Going above and beyond the minimum statutory pay expected of you as a business owner signals to your hard-working, loyal employees that you have their back.

Balancing compassion with consistency

A good workplace handles employee hardship with empathy and understanding, but it’s also consistent in how it applies its sickness absence policy.

I suggest adding accommodations for mental health days and arrangements for chronic illnesses. You can also think about having a menopause policy or a hybrid working policyhaving to support workers. Your sickness policy should be flexible enough to adapt to individual circumstances and needs.

Above all, you should apply the sickness absence policy consistently without playing favourites. Hold regular training for your managers on the details of your sickness absence policy and its fair application.

You may consider having a way for employees to anonymously report concerns about how the sickness absence policy is being applied, for any concerns about transparency and fairness.

Addressing frequent sickness absences

I believe in trusting the people I work with and giving them the benefit of the doubt. That being the case, there will be cases when employees misuse your trust and take advantage of the sickness absence policy rules. It’s human nature.

There are steps you can take to prevent this from happening and make sure your team members use your sickness absence policy honestly.

  • Monitoring and analysis: Have HR software to track the patterns in your sickness absences. That will help you identify any problematic trends before they happen
  • Return-to-work interviews: When an employee comes back from a prolonged absence, a return-to-work interview can help you understand the employee’s situation and what accommodations and adjustments they need as they settle back into work. This sets the right message that their well-being is your priority, and where you can spot issues. More information on setting a bullying and harassment policy.
  • Supportive measures: If an employee starts reporting frequent absences, it may be an indication that they need extra support. That can include offering counselling services or other adjustments to their work environment. Open a dialogue with the employee and make a plan that balances both their health and their workload. That will help aid their recovery while also showing a willingness to invest in their long-term productivity and wellbeing

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

A good sickness absence policy supports your employees when they need help and establishes clear and consistent rules about how your policy may be used.

Here are the common mistakes I see UK small businesses making when they make a sickness absence policy for the first time:

  • Vague policies: A poorly worded sickness absence policy can lead to confusion and inconsistency. Make sure your policy defines terms, procedures, and expectations regarding sick days
  • Lack of legal compliance: Small business owners and founders often lack the expertise of an HR professional when it comes to drafting sickness absence policies - through no fault of their own. Asking a Charlie HR advisor for advice can help make sure your policy stays consistent with UK law
  • Inflexible rules: If you make your sickness absence policy overly stringent, you risk having team members fall through the cracks when they have special circumstances or suffer from chronic illnesses. Make your policy flexible enough that it can adapt to individual needs and expectations
  • Not having a health and safety policy to prevent any sickness or accident from happening as a result of the work done.

Charlie’s approach to sickness absence

I’m proud to work at a company like Charlie that puts thought and care into its sickness absence policy. It's compassionate but efficient, simple and clear, consistent and also forward-thinking.

For starters, Charlie offers paid sick days. Employees should not feel they need to work when they’re under the weather due to financial pressure.

Moreover, Charlie treats mental health as equally valid as physical health. Our team advocates for mental health days and offers necessary support like counselling when necessary.

The Charlie HR platform itself helps make implementing the sickness absence policy straightforward and efficient.

The platform has features like automated absence tracking to make sure all sickness absences are above board. It flags any suspicious requests allowing you to deal with repeat absences pro-actively. No messy and needless complicated sick pay calculations - the Charlie platform automates all that.

Easily book sick leave in Charlie

Write a flexible, fair sickness absence policy that keeps your business healthy

A fair and flexible sickness absence policy goes beyond giving the SSP minimum sick pay entitlements. A progressive company should make and implement a policy that is flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and individual needs and is equally applied to everyone on the whole team.

If you yourself need a bit more hands-on support when making your sickness absence policy, an HR advisor at Charlie would be happy to help you document your sickness absence policy in your bespoke employee handbook.

Company handbook

Or, why not get our all-in-one HR software to easily track all types of employee leave and time off? All you need to do is start a free trial.

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