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Sick Pay - is there a "sick note" culture in the UK?

It has recently been reported that Rishi Sunak is looking to end the “sick note culture” as it is his position that being in work can actually improve physical and mental health.

Whilst there is certainly an argument to say that being at work improves physical and mental health, not everybody is in a position to be in work.


The Office of National Statistics figures from last year showed that 4 in 10 people are off with 5 or more conditions. There were over 1 million people citing mental health as one of those conditions. In addition, there were 7.5 million people on a waiting list and as of February 2024, 2 million people were awaiting access to mental health services.

These people on waiting lists may not be physically or mentally able to work until they have access to the support they need.

What are an employee’s rights?

An employee is entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) if they earn on average at least £123 per week. SSP is not payable for the first 3 days of absence and, in order to receive SSP, the employee must inform their employer that they are sick within 7 days of becoming ill. Subject to meeting the eligibility requirements, SSP is then payable at £116.75 per week for up to 28 weeks.

An employer may offer enhanced sick pay, and this should be set out in the contract of employment or the company’s policies and procedures.

Who can sign somebody off from work?

Currently, a Fit Note must be issued by a healthcare professional such as a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist.

It is common for an employee’s GP to issue a Fit Note in the first instance, with those such as occupational therapists becoming involved with the employee only after they have been absent for a certain period of time and are referred to Occupational Health.

Moving forward….

Rishi Sunak’s plans include a trial removing GPs of their power to sign people off work and moving the responsibility “to specialist work and health professionals who have the dedicated time to provide an objective assessment of someone’s ability to work and the tailored support they need to do so”. The thought behind this is that people will access the support they need to be able to work, rather than just being signed off.

Whilst this will no doubt free up GPs time, the likelihood of the plan assisting people in being able to work must be considered in line with the statistics above.

One of the most important things to consider when an employee is absent because of sickness is the narrative between the individual and their employer and keeping communication open between the parties to determine what will assist the individual in returning to the workplace.

Rishi Sunak’s plans are currently being consulted upon and we will publish any updates as soon as possible.


If you require legal advice on the content of this article, speak to a member of our employment team on 01689 887 887.



Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.