Learning and development

20 August 2018

This article was featured in the September 2018 issue of the magazine.

Jill Smith MCIPPdip, CIPP policy manager, covers the basics required to administer SSP

As we know employees are sometimes unable to attend work owing to sickness. If they meet certain qualifying conditions, all such employees are entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP). With the financial impact of sick pay being so significant to an organisation, it’s important that all employers know what their obligations are to employees. 

What is SSP?

SSP is money paid to an employee by their employer if they are sick and unable to work and applies to all four nations in the UK. Employers must pay this to their employees who satisfy all the qualifying conditions. You do not have to pay SSP to your employee if you pay wages or occupational/contractual sick pay for the same days that they would be entitled to SSP if it is more than, or the same as, the current rate of SSP.

Qualifying rules

To qualify for SSP an employee must be employed by you, have an employment contract and have done some work under their contract before they are off sick. They must have been sick for four or more days in a row. SSP would be paid from the fourth day of an absence which is known as the ‘qualifying day.’ 

You don’t have to pay anything for the first three days of sickness – these are known as ‘waiting days’; however, there is one exception where you would pay for the first three days if the employee has been off sick and getting SSP within the last eight weeks. 

All days of sickness, even non-working days count towards the total number of days in a period of incapacity for work (PIW). If an employee is off sick for fewer than four consecutive days, there’s no PIW and no action for you to take.

You cannot count a day as a sick day if an employee has worked for a minute or more before they go off sick. If an employee works a shift that ends the day after it started and becomes sick during the shift or after it has finished, the second day will count as the first sick day.

The employee’s average weekly earnings (AWE) must be at or above the current National Insurance lower earnings limit (LEL), which for 2018/19 is £116.00. For the purpose of determining entitlement to SSP, only earnings that are liable to Class 1 National Insurance contributions (NICs) are included in the calculation of the AWE. It is important to note that all earnings liable to Class 1 NICs are included, even those on which NICs have not been paid.     

To calculate the AWE of an employee who is absent sick, you must use a set period of time (‘the relevant period’) prior to the start of the employee's PIW. The period must be at least eight weeks long and is marked by two pay dates:

  • date one – the last normal pay date before the employee's first complete day of sickness
  • date two – the last normal pay date falling not less than eight weeks before the pay date above.

The relevant period is calculated from the day after date two up to and including date one. 

To calculate average earnings for monthly paid employees add together the gross earnings during the period, divide the total by the number of months in the period. Note that if this is not a whole number of months, round to the nearest whole number – multiply by 12 and divide by 52. 

Where employees have been paid less than eight weeks of earnings but still qualify for SSP, you can use the sick pay calculator on GOV.UK (https://bit.ly/2LtepEU) to work out how much to pay them.

It is down to your company policy as to how an employee notifies you of a sickness absence. If they are off sick for fewer than seven days, you can accept self-certification from them. This can be verbally, by letter or they can use form SC2 (https://bit.ly/2g5ntM4). 

If they are off sick for more than seven days, you can ask for a fit note which can be given by a hospital doctor or a general practitioner (GP).

 

Entitlement

Employees who qualify are entitled to SSP for a total of 28 weeks per period of sickness. SSP is paid for the days an employee would normally work – qualifying days (QD). Legislation states that a QD is a day of the week on which the employee is required by his contract of employment to be available for work or chosen to reflect the terms of that contract or such day(s) as may be agreed between the employee and his employer. 

SSP is paid in the same way and at the same time as wages are normally paid, for example, weekly or monthly and is subject to tax and Class 1 NICs if applicable. SSP is paid at a daily rate. Only qualifying days (QDs) count for paying SSP. A point to remember is that you do not pay SSP for the first three QDs – the waiting days.

To work out the daily rate for your employee divide the weekly rate by the number of QDs in that week. For SSP purposes, the week always begins on a Sunday. Although the weekly rate is always the same, the fewer days your employee normally works, the higher the rate of SSP that is payable per QD, i.e. the daily rate for an employee working a three-day week will be higher than that of an employee working a five-day week. 

(See table below for SSP daily rates according to QDs.)

The maximum entitlement to SSP is 28 weeks in each sickness period or series of linked PIWs. If your employee has regular periods of sickness, they may count as ‘linked’. To be linked, the periods must last four or more days each and be eight weeks or less apart. Your employee is no longer eligible for SSP if they have a continuous series of linked periods that lasts more than three years.

(You can calculate when you have paid 28 weeks' worth of SSP by keeping a running total of all SSP paid in a period or linked PIWs. You can use form SSP2 (https://bit.ly/2zOXTu2) to record periods of sickness and payment of SSP).

Employees can qualify for sick pay from more than one job. They could also qualify in one job but be fit for work in another; for example, if one job is physical work that they cannot do while ill but the other is office-based.

Another area to consider is if the employee has previously been off sick and you have agreed a phased return to work, you must consider payment of the employee's normal wages for days worked and SSP for days not worked in the normal working week.

 

Exceptions

There are exceptions where employees do not qualify for SSP if they:

  • have received the maximum amount of SSP (28 weeks)

  • are getting statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance, as there are special rules for pregnant women and new mothers who do not get these payments

  • are off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week (Sunday to Saturday) that their baby is due

  • were in custody or on strike on the first day of sickness (including any linked periods)

  • are working outside the EU and you’re not liable for their class 1 NICs

  • received employment and support allowance (ESA) within twelve weeks of starting or returning to work for you.

If your employee is not entitled to SSP but has been incapable of work for at least four days in a row, you should advise them to claim ESA from Jobcentre Plus office. You should also give them form SSP1 (https://bit.ly/2LsU2Ep) as soon as possible to help support their claim.

There are some employment types – like agency workers, directors and educational workers – who have different rules for entitlement. These are not covered in this article, but guidance can be found here: https://bit.ly/2q5cWu8.

    

Record keeping

From April 2014, the relevant legislation was revoked so employers are no longer required by law to keep details of SSP payments. It is up to employers to choose how much detail to keep and in what form. It is advisable to keep details of SSP payments and copies of medical evidence or self-certification forms, in case of a query from employees or from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

It is also worthwhile keeping a record of days for which SSP was not paid and related evidence that justifies those decisions. If an employer decides not to pay SSP but does not record why and the employee contests the decision, then HMRC is more likely to find in the employee's favour.

SSP payments are included in full payment submissions and in the final submission of the tax year.