Off work sick? Don't let it hurt your bank balance too.

Wednesday 19 August 2015, 09:00 AM

Sam Barratt
Financial Journalist , Freelance

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No matter how fit and healthy you are, chances are you'll wake up one morning feeling grim. But while few of us would think twice about calling in sick and heading back to bed, if you're too ill to work, it's important to know your rights.

Although many employers won't dock your pay if you're off sick for a few days, this isn't guaranteed, and you could find time off nursing a cold or tummy bug leaves you seriously out of pocket.

Short-term illnesses
Exactly what you'll get depends on your contract of employment. As a bare minimum, if you're employed and earn at least £112 a week, you'll be entitled to statutory sick-pay. This is paid at the rate of £88.45 a week. In addition it won't be paid for the first three days of any absence, and it only lasts for 28 weeks.

Thankfully many employers are more generous and will pay you contractual or occupational sick-pay. This won't necessarily be your normal rate of pay, although it often is, but it won't be less than statutory sick-pay. It may also kick in from day one of any illness so you won't be out of pocket, and could also extend beyond the 28-week limit for statutory sick-pay.
Long-term absence
While most of us can cope with the potential financial pain of a few days off here and there due to a cold or food poisoning, few of us even consider the possibility that we might be off work long-term as a result of illness or injury.

But the statistics make for worrying reading. According to insurer Unum, you're three times more likely to be off work for six months or longer than to die during your working life. This means that one in ten employees will find themselves off for a period of six months or more during their career.    

Financial safety net
Unfortunately, when absence goes beyond the 28-week period catered for by statutory sick-pay, there's much less of a financial safety net. Again what you'll be entitled to comes down to your contract of employment, so make sure you check the details.

If you would only be entitled to statutory sick-pay or your employer's contractual sick-pay arrangement has a limited term, you may need to claim Employment and Support Allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Some employers, especially those with group income protection insurance, are more generous and will continue to pay you beyond the 28-week period. Again though, check what provision is in place as it does vary. Some policies will pay until state pension age while others will only provide an income for a limited term such as two or five years. On top of that, the amount paid could be lower than your normal pay.

Take cover

If your employer doesn't offer very generous sick-pay arrangements, or you're self-employed and don't have an employer to fall back on, there's nothing to stop you taking out your own cover. Income protection can cover up to 70% of your pre-tax salary if you're unable to work and, by tweaking the terms of the policy, you can make it fit your budget and circumstances too.