Can employees take sick days as holidays?

In most circumstances, yes they can. But depending on the context, that might not be a great idea.  

You might know this situation. You’re expecting Jim to come to work one day. He calls in an hour before his shift, and complains of a stomach bug, and he won’t be able to make it. Okay mate, you say, hope you feel better soon. It’s a shame, you think, and the rest of the team will have to pick up some of his work today, or the clients won’t be happy.

A week later, in a 1-2-1 review, Jim mentions he’d like to take it as a holiday instead so he can get paid for it.  

Then you remember - that day Jim was off… didn’t he request a holiday on that day? And we denied it because it was too short-notice?

That doesn’t seem right. What can we do?

There’s no legal reason why a sick day can’t be converted to a holiday. But it's the company's decision whether to allow this or not.

In the employee’s favour, it can work to reduce their amount of sick days on record. And, if they normally wouldn’t get paid for sickness absence (other than Statutory Sick Pay - SSP - which isn’t much), it means they’ll get paid for that day.  

In the company’s favour, it means that a day of allowance is used, meaning there’ll be one more day of productivity later in the year.

The problem for the company is that they can’t record it as an absence, which affects their understanding of sickness levels. And if there’s an underlying problem causing the absence, they’re less likely to spot it over the long term (we’ve written about good absence management methods here).

Also, if the employee has requested a holiday for that day which is declined, they may just ‘pull a sickie’ knowing that they’ll be able to convert it to holiday later on, like Jim did. Cheeky!

Can my employer make me use my holiday allowance when off sick?

We’ve heard stories before of managers saying “you can have the day off sick but it’ll have to go down as a holiday”. Not really something you want to hear when you’re genuinely under the weather. Turns out they're not allowed to do that.

Generally, your employer can tell you when to take leave; it’s in their hands whether to approve or decline holidays. However, they have to give you two days notice for each day you want to take. So they can’t tell you to take a sick day as holiday as there won't be enough prior warning.

For managers looking to reduce the amount of sickness their employees take, have a look at our post on how to reduce sickness absence in your business. (Hint: it’s about giving your staff the support they need to live a healthy life).

In the example of Jim above, you might want to think about your company policy too, what really drove that day of sickness? Maybe your inability to flex and allow Jim that day off as holiday in the first instance was a major factor, maybe that day off sick was actually his wife's 40th birthday, maybe an important day with his kids.

Photo by Rex Pickar on Unsplash