Sickness absence

Everyone gets sick, and sometimes we are too sick to go to work.  When this happens employers should do all they can to support their workers so that they can return to work fit and well.

Employers also have a duty to:

  • Protect their workers’ health and safety on their return to work, especially when they have become more vulnerable as a result of their illness or injury;
  • Eliminate or failing that manage the work related causes of sickness absence.

Facts and figures

According to the ONS sickness absence sickness absence has almost halved since 1993. According to the latest figures the average worker takes just over 4 days a year off through injury or illness, compared to 1993 when they took just over 7 days.

However this fall may be at the expense of increase in “presenteeisms”, that is when workers are forced to attend work when they are not fit to do so. Research has shown that this could be costing the economy approximately twice as much as sickness absence.

How does the issue affect our members?

When we get sick it is important their our employers support us in getting well. However all too often:

  • Workers are being forced back to work through punitive policies that punish workers for being sick;
  • Working days are lost to work related injuries and illness such as stress/mental health and musculoskeletal disorders (MDS)

What is UNISON calling for?

UNISON is calling for fair sickness absence policies that help staff get well, and not punish them for being sick. It is also calling for more action to tackle the underlying causes of sickness absence such as stress, mental health and MSDs.

What is UNISON doing?

UNISON nationally is campaigning/lobbying the government and employers for policies that help staff get well and tackle the underlying causes of absence of ill health and injury.

To help branches in their discussions with employers it has produced a guides and model policies. See below for details.

Are you looking for advice on sick leave? See our Get Help page for more information.