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Help for small firms

Help for small firms: Handling pay and wages

Handling pay and wages - Step 6: Pay during absences from work

There are various reasons why a worker may be absent from work and you should be clear whether they are statutorily entitled to pay during their absence. You should also check whether your workers' contracts enhance some of these entitlements.

While not an exhaustive list, reasons for absence from work may include:

Adoption leave: An employee who is adopting a child is entitled to 52 weeks' statutory adoption leave. If they have been continually employed for at least 26 weeks at the end of the week in which they were notified of being matched with a child for adoption, they may also be entitled to 39 weeks' statutory adoption pay. For more information, go to Adoption leave and pay.

Annual leave: A worker is entitled to a minimum of 5.6 working weeks' paid leave per year. This figure can include paid public holidays. While a worker is off on statutory annual leave, they must receive their normal pay. Whether this should include any overtime pay and/or commission they would usually earn will depend on the particular circumstances. For the latest information on this, go to Calculating holiday pay.

Antenatal care: All pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care appointments made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor. For more information, go to Time off for antenatal appointments.

An employee who is the partner of a pregnant woman is entitled to take unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments.

Disciplinary suspension: There may be circumstances where you decide suspension from work is necessary while disciplinary investigations are carried out. Suspension should only be used after careful consideration and should be reviewed to ensure it is not unnecessarily drawn out. Employees should be paid when on suspension, unless their contract says otherwise.

Jury service and other public duties: You must let a worker have time off work if they are summoned for jury service. If the timing of their absence will have a serious effect on your business you may ask your worker to request a delay. You do not have to pay your worker while they are on jury service. They can claim loss of earnings, travel costs and a subsistence rate from the court. For more information, go to Jury service.

Employees should also be allowed a reasonable amount of time off work for certain public duties. For example, if they are a magistrate, school governor or local councillor. You do not usually have to pay them for this time. For a list of other public duties, go to GOV.UK - Time off work for public duties.

Lay offs or short-time working: You can only lay off an employee and not pay them if there is:

  • a clear contractual right
  • an agreement covering lay offs between the organisation and a union
  • a national agreement for the industry which you follow.

If an employee is laid off they will be entitled to a statutory guaranteed payment from you for up to five days in any period of three months. On days when a guaranteed payment isn't payable, an employee may be able to claim Jobseeker's Allowance. For more information, go to Lay-offs and short-time working.

Maternity leave: A pregnant employee is entitled to 52 weeks' statutory maternity leave. If they have been continually employed for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth, they may also be entitled to 39 weeks' statutory maternity pay. For more information, go to Maternity rights.

Maternity suspension: In some circumstances, a pregnant employee may need to be suspended on health and safety grounds. If this arises, you must suspend her on full pay for as long as necessary to protect the health and safety of mother and baby

Medical suspension: Certain health and safety regulations can require employees are suspended from their normal work on medical grounds.  For example, an employee who became seriously allergic to a chemical at work may need to be suspended on medical grounds until the chemical can be removed from the working environment. Employees with more than a month's service are entitled to receive full pay for as long as they are suspended on medical grounds.

Parental leave: Different to shared parental leave. An employee who has worked for you for more than a year is entitled to up to 18 weeks' unpaid leave to care for each child they have. Parental leave can be used by parents up until the child's 18th birthday. For more information, go to

Paternity leave: An employee, who is the partner of a pregnant woman (or the partner of a person adopting a child) and has worked continuously for you for 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth, will be entitled to one or two weeks' paternity leave. They may also be entitled to statutory paternity pay. For more information, go to

Reservists: Are individuals who can be called up to supplement the regular armed forces when required. An employee who wants to be a reservist must inform you and get your written consent before they apply. By law, you do not have to allow your employee to take time off for training. If the employee is mobilised, they will be paid by the Ministry of Defence, therefore you do not have to pay an employee while they're away on duty. Also small and medium-sized businesses can claim financial compensation if an employee is mobilised. For more information, go to Volunteer Reserve Forces.

Shared parental leave: Different to parental leave. To take shared parental leave a mother or an adopter may reduce their 52 weeks' maternity or adoption leave and 39 weeks' pay. They and their partner could then take any remaining weeks as shared parental leave and shared parental pay if they meet the eligibility criteria. For more information, go to Shared parental leave and pay.

Sickness: An employee who has been off sick for four or more consecutive days will usually be entitled to statutory sick pay. For more information, go to GOV.UK - Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Time off for dependants: An employee is entitled to reasonable time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependent.  A dependent could be a spouse, partner, or someone who depends on your employee for care - for example, an elderly neighbour. Usually this would be unpaid.

For more information, go to Time off for dependants.

Travel disruption and severe weather: Travel disruption and severe weather can stop or delay workers getting to work. There is no legal right for a worker to be paid when travel and weather delays prevent them being in work, apart from in some circumstances where the employer provides the transport or if travel is deemed as working time. For more information, go to Travel disruption and bad weather.

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