22 Aug 2023

Can you get statutory sick pay (SSP) on a zero hours contract?

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What is a zero hours contract?

A zero hours contract is an employment agreement where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, nor is the employee required to accept any offered work. This type of contract is used when the need for staff fluctuates or is unpredictable. It offers flexibility, as it allows employers to bring in staff when they need them and gives employees the freedom to work when it suits them.

What is statutory sick pay (SSP)?

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is a payment made by an employer to an employee who is unable to work due to illness. Currently, the rate of SSP is £109.40 per week, and it is paid by the employer for up to 28 weeks. This financial support aims to help employees cover their basic expenses while they are off work due to illness. Use our statutory sick pay calculator to figure out exactly how much SSP you, or your employee, is owed.

Criteria for statutory sick pay (SSP)?

To qualify for SSP, an employee must meet certain criteria:

  • Have an employment contract.
  • Have done some work under their contract.
  • Have been sick for 4 or more days in a row (including non-working days) – known as a ‘period of incapacity for work.’
  • Earn an average of at least £123 per week.
  • Provide notice and proof of illness when needed.

Employers are not allowed to offer less than the statutory amount of SSP, but they can offer more if the company has a sick pay scheme (or ‘occupational scheme’) in place. It is essential to check the employment contract for details about the company’s specific sick pay scheme.

How much statutory sick pay (SSP) can zero hours employees receive?

The eligibility for SSP for zero hours contract workers depends on whether or not the employee has had three months’ continuous employment with the employer. This three-month period does not have to be immediately before a period of sickness and is not broken by periods of sickness or annual leave.

If the employee has not had three months’ continuous employment, they are entitled to SSP from the fourth day of their illness (the first three days are known as ‘waiting days’). If they have had three months’ continuous employment, they are entitled to SSP from the first day of their illness.

For zero hours employees, it is essential to note that the average earnings threshold of £123 per week still applies. The calculation of average earnings should take into account the total earnings (including overtime and bonuses) over the last eight weeks before the sickness period.

It’s essential to note that SSP is paid for the days an employee usually works, known as ‘qualifying days.’ In a zero hours contract, these qualifying days can be irregular, so it is vital to keep a record of the employee’s working pattern. SSP is paid in the same way as regular wages, with tax and National Insurance contributions deducted.

Challenges and considerations around statutory sick pay (SSP) for zero hour contract workers

It can be challenging for zero hours employees to provide notice and proof of illness due to the irregular nature of their working hours. However, employers should treat zero hours workers fairly and allow them to provide evidence of illness as soon as it’s reasonably possible.

Another consideration is the potential for abuse of the SSP system. Some zero hours workers might claim SSP even when they are not genuinely sick, due to the insecurity of their working hours. Employers should be aware of this risk and ensure they have proper systems in place to verify sickness claims.

Zero hours contracts offer flexibility but come with certain complexities when it comes to SSP. The key is to understand the criteria for eligibility and to ensure that both employers and employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities. Zero hours employees are entitled to SSP under certain conditions, and it’s crucial for employers to treat them fairly and consistently. Proper record-keeping and communication can help make the process smoother for both parties. Using HR software, like Zelt, where employers can accurately log absences, allows all parties involved to maintain clarity.