Taking Sick Leave

Employees can take time off work if they are ill. They need to give their employer proof if they are ill for more than 7 days.

If they are ill just before or during their holiday, they can take it as sick leave instead.

Fit notes and proof of sickness 

Employees must give their employee a 'fit note' (sometimes called a 'sick note') if they have been ill for more than 7 days in a row and have taken sick leave. This includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays.

The fit note will say the employee is either 'not fit to work' or 'may be fit for work'. 

If it says the employee 'may be fit for work', employees should discuss any changes that might help the employee return to work (for example, different hours or tasks). The employee must be treated as 'not fit for work' if there is no agreement on these changes.

Employees can take a copy of the fit note. The employee should keep the original.


If employees are off work for 7 days or left, they do not need to give their employer a fit note or other proof of sickness from a healthcare professional.

When they return to work, their employer can ask them to confirm they have been off sick. This is called 'self certification'. The employer and employee will agree on how the employee should do this. They might need to fill in a form or send details of their sick leave by email.

Sick leave and holiday 

Statutory holiday entitlement is built up (accrued) while an employee is off work sick (no matter how long they are off).

Any statutory holiday entitlement that is not used because of illness can be carried over into the next leave year. If an employee is ill just before or during their holiday, they can take it as sick leave instead.

An employee can ask to take their paid holiday for the time they are off work sick. They might do this if they do not qualify for sick pay, for example, any rules relating to sick leave will still apply.

Employees cannot force employees to take annual leave when they are eligible for sick leave. 


When an employee changes their holiday to sick leave they are paid Statutory Sick Pay which will count towards the amount of holiday pay they have received. The exceptions to this rule are: 

  • they do not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay 

  • they were off work sick and being paid occupational sick pay 

Returning to work 

Employers must make changes to an employee’s working conditions if they are disabled. These changes are known as reasonable adjustments (external link) and could include working shorter hours or adapting equipment employees use at work. 

Employees can get free advice from Fit to Work (external link) on managing health conditions at work and returning to work from sick leave. 

Long-term sickness 

Employees who are off work sick for more than 4 weeks may be considered long-term sick. A long-term sick employee is still entitled to annual leave. 

Dismissing a long-term sick employee 

As a last resort, employers can dismiss an employee who is long-term sick, but before they can do this employers must: 

  • consider if an employee can return to work - such as by working flexibly or part-time, doing different or less stressful work (with training if necessary) 

  • consult with employees about when they could return to work and if their health will improve 

An employee can take their case to an employment tribunal (external link) if they think they have been unfairly dismissed.