Picture of a contract4 March 2010

We asked our resident barrister, Holiday Whitehead, to tell us what things people on long-term sick leave should be thinking about in relation to their employment and what rights their employer may not be telling them about.

If you are currently on long term sick leave and feeling unsure of your position, hiding away and keeping your head down in the hope that you will be forgotten is not, in my opinion, advisable.

In fact, doing this makes it much more likely that you will hear absolutely nothing from work until you suddenly get a letter or phone call telling you that you have to attend a medical or an interview to discuss your sick leave and your future employment. This unexpected contact, after months of not hearing from your employer at all, can feel intimidating and be very stressful.

You may even receive a letter telling you that you are being considered for redundancy, due to the need to restructure the organisation or because of the economic downturn or something similar

A much better strategy than laying low is to gather all the information you need to ensure you get the financial and other support you are entitled to and then to keep your employer regularly informed about your circumstances.

Contract, policies and procedures
If you don’t have a copy of your contract and an up to date set of all of your workplace policies and procedures, then contact your employer or your human resources department and ask for copies to be sent to you.

When you get these, check the sickness policy to identify how employees on long-term sick leave should be treated and whether that is happening for you.

For example, medical or occupational health examinations are a common area of anxiety for employees. By having access to all of your terms, conditions, policies and procedures, you will know when you are likely to be asked to attend a medical or be visited at home for that purpose.

In addition, if you are covered by your employer’s health care insurance then ask for copies of the insurance terms and conditions to ensure you are getting your full entitlement.

Check your sick pay provisions and identify whether they are contractual or statutory. Also check what happens when your contractual sick pay runs out.

Annual leave
You may not have been told that your annual leave still accrues while you are on sick leave, but it’s vital that you are aware of this.

If you are unable to take that leave, a recent change in the law now allows you to carry your accrued entitlement over to the following year. You are then allowed to use that accrued leave on your return to work, or have it all paid in lieu if your employment ends before you return to work.

Alternatively, if you have accrued annual leave you may be able to take that paid leave while you are off sick, even if your sick pay entitlement has expired. This would have to be arranged with your employer and quite possibly your GP, but it may be a way of getting some extra income.

You may also want to consider using any accrued leave as a bridge between your long-term sick leave and your return to work.

Don’t lose out
Whatever your situation, ensure you have all of the information and documents you need.  Chasing your employer for this information may feel like a very difficult thing for you to do while you are off sick,.  But if you don’t, you may be missing out on valuable entitlements that you can’t afford to lose out on.

Need help?

If you’re currently in employment and facing difficulties of any kind, then you may be interested in a new initiative from Holiday Whitehead being promoted solely via Benefits and Work.

Most of Holiday’s work is with voluntary sector employers. However, Holiday is offering a pilot service at a very considerably reduced rate for employees. If you’re having problems at work such as:

  • Long-term sick leave issues
  • Disability discrimination
  • Facing redundancy
  • Being pressured into resigning
  • Changes to your terms and conditions

Then Holiday may be able to help. More details from Holiday’s website:



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