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Unscrupulous employers are using underhanded tactics to avoid paying their employees Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), the Citizens Advice charity has revealed.

Citizens Advice is urging people who need to take time off work because of illness or injury to check if they’re eligible for sick pay, as analysis found the charity helped with 1800 problems related to sick pay and sick leave in February 2016 – up 11% on the average for the rest of the year.

SSP is payable for up to 28 weeks of sick leave and is currently paid at £88.45 per week, although some people may be paid extra in what is known as contractual sick pay.

Employees are eligible for SSP regardless of whether they work part-time or full-time, if you normally earn more than £112 a week and have been sick for more than four days in a row.

People on a fixed term contract, or those who work through an agency or are on a zero-hours contract, are also eligible.

However, Citizens Advice has uncovered evidence showing some employers are trying to exploit confusion around the rules “so they can get away with not paying up”.

Some of the crude tactics being used to avoid paying staff SSP include cancelling people’s shifts after they call in sick, reducing people’s wages and downplaying their working hours, wrongly claiming employees need to present a sick note (now known as ‘fit notes’) after only a few days off work, refusing to fill in a HMRC sick pay form, and even dismissing (sacking) employees rather than paying them.

Citizens Advice cites the example a factory worker who worked 5 days a week, but his casual contract wrongly stated he only worked 7 hours. His employer attempted to avoid paying him sick pay, claiming he did not work enough hours or earn enough.

Another case involved a Carer on a zero-hours contract who turned to Citizens Advice for help after she needed time off for a work-related injury. Citizens Advice says her employer cancelled her shifts for the next 3 weeks and argued she wasn’t due to be working, when in reality she had already been offered the work.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said: “Sick pay is a basic right which many workers are entitled to. Although some employers make genuine mistakes working out whether workers are eligible, others are trying to confuse people about their rights so they can get away with not paying up.

“Getting paid time off to recover from illness is not only important for people’s health, but also prevents them from being left with a hole in their finances that they can struggle to recover from.

“If you think you’re owed sick pay but your employer won’t pay, contact Citizens Advice for help.”

Citizens Advice has the following tips for anyone who is unsure if the are eligible for SSP:

  • Entitled to extra sick pay? Some employers pay more than statutory sick pay, for example paying your wages in full for a certain time period. This is called contractual sick pay. The details should be in your contract, staff handbook or on the intranet.
  • Work a zero hours contract? If you’re on a zero hours contract and work regularly for the same employer you’re still entitled to sick pay as long as you normally earn more than £112 a week before tax.
  • Employer says you’re not entitled? Ask them to fill in the government sick pay form PDF explaining their reasons. Once you’ve got it, contact HM revenue and customs (HMRC). They will ask you about your circumstances and make a decision about whether you are owed sick pay or not.
  • Employer still won’t pay? If HMRC have said that you are owed sick pay, then your employer has to pay this to you. If they refuse, contact ACAS early conciliation service who will negotiate with your employer. The final step is taking your employer to a tribunal – though beware that you will need to pay a fee.