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Employment

How does sick pay in the UK compare to the rest of the world?

The government has increased the rate of statutory sick pay employers must pay to staff from April 1, but unions have called it “minimal”.

Alongside rises to the national living and minimum wages, the government has increased the rate of statutory sick pay by 3.1 per cent, which has not changed the rate’s ranking as one of the worst in Europe. 

In line with Boris Johnson’s  announcement that the UK must “learn to live with the virus,” all Covid restrictions in England have ended, including the legal requirement to isolate if positive, leaving it up to individuals to decide whether to go to work or stay at home if they test positive. 

The legal entitlement to statutory sick pay (SSP) from day one for people with Covid-19 has also ended, meaning that  whatever the reason, an employee can only claim SSP from the fourth day they are off sick. 

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Even with the recent rise,  the UK’s rate of SSP is still one of the lowest in Europe. 

The prime minister has suggested British workers should “learn from Germany” and not go to work if they are feeling ill, yet many have pointed out that Germans can only afford to make this decision due to the country’s high rate of statutory sick pay. 

We break down how statutory sick pay works in the UK and how it compares to other countries.

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How much is statutory sick pay in the UK?

The government increased the rate of statutory sick pay on April 1 from £96.35 per week to £99.35. This is a rise of 3.1 per cent, which is below the current rate of inflation at 6.2 per cent. 

The statutory amount is the minimum amount that employers must pay employees off sick for up to 28 weeks, but they may choose to pay their staff more and for longer. 

A company may have a sick pay scheme (or occupational scheme) that specifies in an employment contract the number of sick days an employee may take with no loss of income.

Sick pay is not paid for the first three days an employee is out of work due to illness. It is not means tested so will not be affected by an employee’s salary or how much money they have in savings

The Trades Union Congress called the rise “minimal” and described the amount as “still set below survival rate.” 

Should you go to work if you have Covid?

The government lifted the legal obligation to self-isolate after testing positive in England on February 24, meaning that if you test positive, there is not legal requirement for you to miss work.

Unions fear the decision “will prolong the pandemic” by guaranteeing that workers, who are already facing a cost of living crisis and cannot afford to isolate will go to work with Covid.

When The Big Issue asked the government whether people who have tested positive for Covid-19 should go to work given that it is no legal a legal requirement to stay at home, a spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said: 

“If someone is displaying Covid-19 symptoms or has tested positive they should be considered sick and should stay at home and avoid contact with others.

“It is our ambition that Covid-19 should be treated in a similar way to other infectious diseases. However, employers still have a duty of care to their staff so they should take steps to prevent infection in the workplace.”

Who is entitled to statutory sick pay in the UK?

There are certain requirements a worker must meet to be eligible to claim. An employee must have earnt an average of at least £120 per week (before tax) in the past eight weeks. This means that many people who work part time, or who have holiday may find that their average income in the specified period of time does not meet the minimum required.

Workers on zero-hour contracts are legally entitled to claim statutory sick pay, however in reality, it is very difficult to claim. 

Staff are only entitled to SSP for the days they would have been scheduled to work. Many who work on zero-hour contracts only receive their shifts a week or two in advance, so with the first three days discarded, this up to four days of shifts on which to receive sick pay.

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If an employee falls sick and can’t work on a Monday, and they have three shifts scheduled for the week, they will be entitled to statutory sick pay for the shifts they had been scheduled to work from Thursday onwards. If they were scheduled to work Thursday – Sunday, that works out to £54.77.

Statutory sick pay is an employee right that every person is equally entitled to. However, recent research has found institutional racism is causing some marginalised groups to miss out on the sick pay they are legally entitled to. 

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that South Asian workers were 40 per cent more likely to lack access than white people.

“We’re relatively confident in saying this is labour market discrimination,” Parth Patel, lead author of the report told the Big Issue. “There’s unfair practice by employers in terms of who they’re giving access to sick pay to and who they’re not.”

How much is statutory sick pay in Germany?

The UK’s rate of sick pay is among the lowest in Europe. Workers in Germany – who Johnson suggested Brits emulate – are entitled to a minimum of 70 per cent of their wage, up to 100 per cent, for 84 weeks.

The Trades Unions Congress has calculated that the British rate of £96.35 per week is around 19 per cent of the average Briton’s salary.

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How does sick pay in Britain compare to the rest of the world?

In the rest of Europe, Belgian employees can expect to get 93 per cent of their pay covered while sick, with rates dropping to 64 per cent in Sweden and 42 per cent in Spain. 

Malta is the only other country in Europe to specify a fixed amount of money to be paid to sick employees, rather than a percentage of their overall salary. Employees off work for sickness in Malta will receive €420.30 per month, or roughly €98.07 per week, which equals £82.12 per week as of February 2022. 

In the United States there is no requirement for businesses to pay to offer any sick leave to employees. However, in reality, 74 per cent of full-time US workers have some form of arrangement with their employer that provides them with some paid time off if they are sick.

Similarly, in Japan there are no sick pay requirements for companies to pay, and many staff use their holiday allowance to cover days they are unable to work due to ill-health.

Full-time and part-time employees in Australia get 10 days each year of paid sick or carer’s leave. Brazil has a similar policy, allowing for up to 15 days of sickness on full pay each year. 

Which country has the highest rate of sick pay?

Iceland is considered the country with the best sick pay package, according to legal services provider The Compensation Experts, which compared the sick pay packages of every European country. 

Icelanders are entitled to an impressive 100 per cent of their wage for a minimum of two days for every month they’ve been in employment. Coming second in the analysis is Norway, which mandates full pay for up to 52 weeks of sickness. 

Which country has the lowest rate of sick pay?

Irish employers are not legally obligated to pay their employees any sick pay at all. Employers are left to decide upon their own sick leave policies. People who cannot work due to illness can apply to the Department of Social Protection (DSP) for an illness benefit payment, calculated on their average weekly earnings. 

This is due to change in 2022 with the introduction of a statutory sick pay scheme that will mandate employers pay 70 per cent of their employees’ wages (up to a maximum €110 per day).

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