US Presidential Election Shines Light On Fitness At Work

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The Law Of... presidential elections

As the US Presidential race reaches its climax, the debate has fallen squarely on the state of both candidates' health.

The Law Of... presidential elections

In a bizarre move away from policy discussion, media coverage of the election is focussing on questions over each candidate's fitness, causing doctors for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to publish medical reports of the potential next US President.

The debate has led to a conversation about sickness at work and statutory sick pay, but with mandatory employment policies in the US amongst the most frugal in the Western world how does the UK compare?

Time Off Work

With both candidates facing criticisms over transparency on their health, the fitness debate came to a head after a video appeared to show Hillary Clinton staggering while entering a vehicle.

It was later revealed that she was suffering from pneumonia, which she recovered from in a few days.

Her initial reluctance to take time off from the campaign trail is reflected around the United States, with the BBC reporting that there's a national perception in America that time off work to recover from illness is often equated to weakness or an unreliable personality.

Despite this perception, recent figures suggest that the average worker in the US and the UK take a similar amount of sick days; however those in the US that are not offered sick pay by their employer – usually low paid workers in the retail or food industry – are more likely to go to work with contagious illnesses, as they cannot afford to miss a day of work.

Statutory Sick Pay

Despite reports suggesting that US and UK workers, on average, take a similar amount of days off for illness, legislation on statutory sick pay differs significantly between the two countries.

Employers in the US are not required by law to offer sick pay, with many companies offering paid time off work – this includes paid vacations – as an additional perk as part of employee benefit packages.

While UK legislation on sick pay is amongst the most frugal in the EU, all employers must offer statutory sick pay.

In the UK, employees are entitled to £88.45 Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) per week, however this only applies after an employee has taken 4 or more days off ill in a row. SSP is paid by your employer.

Some companies may offer higher rates of sick pay, however this is the required minimum set by the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992.

If employees are suffering from a long-term illness and require more than 28 weeks off work they can apply for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which could equate to £139.75 a week and is paid for by the government.

Holiday Pay

Another area of employment law that differs between the US and the UK is statutory holiday pay, as employers in the US are not required to offer any paid holiday.

Despite this most employers do offer around 10 days paid holiday, alongside public holidays, but figures suggest 25% of US employees do not receive any vacation days.

Meanwhile, in the UK almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid holiday per year. For those working 5 days a week, this equates to 28 days' paid annual leave per year.

Many employers choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker's statutory annual leave.

Commenting on the legalities around paid days off work, David Hession – a Solicitor on Simpson Millar's Employment Law team – explains that:

"Most employees can find their sick pay policy in their contract or in an employee handbook."

"While the legal requirement of SSP is £88.45 per week, employers often provide contractual sick pay as a means of motivating their workers."

"A wider issue to consider is an employer's concerns over whether an employee is fit to work. Where these concerns do emerge, employees are advised to consult with their employers on any health conditions and should obtain any necessary medical evidence to allay, or in some cases prove, an employer's concerns."

"In some cases, employers that have determined that a worker is unfit to carry out a particular role may look to put suitable workplace adjustments in place to accommodate an employee's health condition."

"For employees that cannot find relevant policies in their contract or handbook and are unsure of their employer's sick pay policy, they should ask a relevant manager or HR representative for clarification. If this avenue fails and they feel that they have not received the legally required sick pay, they can seek legal advice for challenging their employer."

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