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What to do if you’re a business owner and you’re ill

Running your own business can be challenging. When you have sole responsibility for your company, you must ensure that it keeps going whatever pitfalls may occur. But what happens if you're ill?

Running your own business comes with lots of benefits. But it also has its challenges. If you become ill, you might be incapable of working for a day, a week, or even several months. In this situation, it’s essential to have a plan in place.

Statutory sick pay (SSP) for employers

If an employee is too sick to work, it’s your duty as an employer to pay them Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). They’re eligible for this payment from the fifth day of sickness. In other words, if a member of staff has been off sick for at least four days (including non-working days) they are entitled to receive SSP.  To qualify for SSP, employees must earn at least £123 per week.

SSP is paid at a rate of £99.35 per week up to a maximum of 28 weeks. As an employer, your company will be responsible for covering this payment from its own pocket.

These rules are also applicable to company directors. Which brings us onto…

SSP for company directors

If you’re a company director, you are legally an employee of your business. Therefore, you are entitled to the same sick pay conditions as other employees.

As a company director, you must meet the following criteria to be eligible for SSP:

  • Have an employment contract
  • Have carried out work under this contract
  • Have been sick for more than four consecutive days (including non-working days)
  • Earn an average of at least £123 per week
  • Provide notice and proof of illness when required

How a director is paid will vary from company to company. More detailed information is available on the government website.

Sole trader sick pay

Self-employed sole traders and partners can’t claim SSP. There are, however, other funding options for business owners who fall into these categories.

As a sole trader or partner, you may be able to claim one or more of the following allowances:

  • Universal Credit
  • New Style Employment and Support Allowance
  • Employment Allowance (reductions in National Insurance)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

ESA is the most common form of income support for business owners who are unable to work and are registered sole traders or partners. More information about how to make a claim is available on the Citizens Advice website.

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Who is eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

If you are under State Pension age (currently 66 but gradually climbing to 68) and you have an illness or disability that prevents you from working, then you should be eligible for ESA. You will also need to have worked or been self-employed and paid enough National Insurance contributions over the last two to three years.

When you make a claim for ESA, your application will be assessed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). During the assessment period, you’ll receive payments for 13 weeks of up to £59.20 per week for under 25s and up to £74.70 per week for people 25 and over.

Following assessment, if your application is successful, you’ll receive either up to £74.70 per week if you’re able to go back to work or up to £114.10 per week if you’re incapable of returning to work.

Sick pay insurance for business owners

As a business owner, you may wish to plan ahead. Sickness can have a detrimental effect on your business performance. But luckily, sick pay insurance can help to cover your costs during difficult periods.

There are lots of companies that offer sick pay insurance. Terms and conditions vary from company to company. In general, however, sick pay insurance will usually include:

  • Payment of monthly premiums
  • Professional claims management support
  • Independent validation
  • Professional assessment and support

If you’re a business owner and you need to take time off sick, it’s important to keep your business running as best you can. This will involve some contact with your employees.

Keeping your employees motivated while off sick

One of the most important parts of running a successful business is employing a workforce you can trust. This is never truer than when you need to take time off for health reasons.

As a business owner who needs to take sick leave, you’ll need to pass the running of the company to a trusted member of staff. This could be a senior member of the team who has worked for you for many years. It could be a member of your office or admin staff who understands the financial side of your business.

Whoever you choose to take over the reins, it’s essential that you are as clear and open as possible with all your employees to reassure them that their working lives are as unaffected as possible.

The benefits of Checkatrade membership when off sick

Following on from how to keep your employees motivated while you’re off sick, Checkatrade membership can greatly increase your work opportunities during difficult times. As a Checkatrade member, you’ll continue to receive leads regardless of whether you’re on sick leave. This can help your company to continue to perform in your absence.

There are different levels of Checkatrade membership offering different benefits for members. During a time of absence, it may be worth considering upgrading your membership to help boost leads. Have a read of this blog on flexible membership to find out more.

Support your business in challenging times

Become a Checkatrade member

Find Out More


Can I get sick pay if I’m self-employed?

If you’re self-employed, you can’t claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). You may, however, be entitled to other sick benefits including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Can company directors get sick pay?

Yes. Company Directors are classed as employees of their own company and are therefore entitled to claim SSP. However, remember that your own company will need to cover the cost of paying this to you. To qualify for SSP as a Company Director, you must meet the average weekly Lower Earnings Limit (LEL).

How long can you be on sick leave?

SSP can be paid for a maximum of 28 weeks. After this time, it is at the company’s discretion as to whether to terminate the contract of employment.

What is a self-certification sick note?

A self-certification sick note is written confirmation from an employee that they’ve been sick, and does not need confirmation from a medical professional.

If an employee has been off sick for seven days or less, an employer shouldn’t ask for medical evidence of sickness. Instead, they can ask an employee to confirm they’ve been sick through ‘self-certification’ – this might be through filling out a form or sending details of their sick leave in an email, depending on what they agree with their employer. If an employee has been off sick for more than seven days in a row, on the other hand, they have to give their employer a ‘fit note’ (sometimes called a ‘sick note’), which is provided by a medical professional.

What are the sick note rules when self-employed?

If you’re self-employed and you want to apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) due to being unable to work for more than 7 days in a row, you’ll need to obtain a fit note (sometimes called a ‘sick note’ or a ‘statement of fitness for work’). You can get one from a GP or hospital doctor, registered nurse, occupational therapist, pharmacist or physiotherapist. They’ll need to assess your fitness for work before giving you a fit note.

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