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When you're ill at work

empty work station

If you are living with HIV it's important that you understand your rights at work when you are sick and need time off.

Absence is usually unplanned and each individual absence differs. Sometimes you can plan ahead, for example, if you know you are about to start treatment or new medications and may experience side-effects as a result.

  1. Side-effects
  2. Taking time off
  3. Employer responsibilities


If you are about to start or change medications, you may be worried about managing any side-effects when you are in the workplace. Planning ahead can be invaluable here.

Here are some things to consider:

  • It may be possible for your doctor to sign you off work initially to manage any potential side effects.
  • If you have disclosed your status at work, your employer might be able to adjust your work role and/or load as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ until you have settled into your new treatment regime.
  • If your employer is not aware of your disability, you may need to consider how you could get some support or who you could turn to for help during this time.
  • Remember there are other professionals available to you through your clinic, apart from your doctor, who can help you. Dieticians, clinical nurse specialists and health advisers will all have experience of helping people manage side-effects and may have some useful tips.

For most people the side-effects of HIV medication usually settle down and get less severe after the first few weeks. In the few cases where they don’t, you can always speak to your doctor about ways to manage the side-effects or even about changing medications.

Taking time off

If you have a minor illness which means you need a few days off work, you should be treated in the same way as any other employee with a minor illness.

If you constantly need time off work for illness, you should be treated the same way as any other employees with a chronic illness.

The first seven days or less of being off sick, your employer can ask you fill in a self-certification when you return to work. Many employers have their own self-certification forms. If your employer doesn’t have their own form, they may use an Employee's Statement of Sickness Form.

If you have exceeded the seven days, you will need to get a Statement of Fitness to Work from your GP or the doctor that treated you. More guidance about time off for sickness.

  • When you are off work due to sickness, how much pay you receive depends on both statute and the terms in your contract of employment.
  • The terms of your contract may be in the form of writing, orally agreed, implied by practice or a combination of all three.
  • If the employer operates a company sick pay scheme (contractual sick pay), you should be paid what you are entitled to under that scheme. If you are not entitled to any contractual sick pay, you should still receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you are eligible or if the terms are more favourable.
  • Your employer can specify what processes you must follow when you take time off work when ill.

As HIV is considered a disability from the point of diagnosis, any absences related to your HIV should be dealt with independently of your general sick leave. In order for this to apply you must let your employer know that you have a disability covered by the Equality Act 2010.

If you are an employee, your employer should not dismiss you for taking time off work unless they have first gone through a dismissal and disciplinary procedure.

This link from the Equality and Human Rights Commission website looks at three issues based on the equality law:

  • Reasons and procedures.
  • If you’re a disabled person and your employer wants to dismiss you.
  • If you’re a disabled person and your employer wants to dismiss you because they say you can no longer do the job.

There are other laws which your employer needs to follow to make sure a dismissal is fair and further guidance can be obtained from ACAS.

Check the parts of your contract that cover what happens if you’re sick.

Employer responsibilities

Employers have a legal duty to look after your mental and physical wellbeing. It’s reasonable for them though, to expect you to cope with the day-to-day pressures of your job in most cases.

Once your employer becomes aware that you fall within the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010, they can avoid:

  • direct or indirect discrimination because of disability
  • discrimination arising from disability.

To ensure that they have met their duty to make reasonable adjustments your employer should:

  • Record your disability-related time off separately from general sick leave. This means that they are not considering bonuses or making other pay or employment decisions in a way that may unlawfully discriminate against you by putting you at a disadvantage.
  • Keep in touch with you if you are absent for an extended period to find out how you are and to inform you what’s happening at work. They should never pressurise you to return to work before you are ready.
  • Think about a return to work plan where you start work again gradually or if at all possible do some work at home before you return to the workplace.
  • Consider reasonable adjustments by consulting you and where necessary use expert advice to determine what reasonable adjustments can be made for when you return to work. If an adjustment is reasonable, your employer must make it.

Your employer does not have to pay sick pay beyond what they normally pay just because your time off is related to your disability. But it may be a reasonable adjustment to:

  • extend your sick pay
  • offer you unpaid disability leave
  • allow you to take the extra time off as annual leave.



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 22/9/2014 by C. Berry

Date due for the next review: 22/9/2017

Content Author: J. Font

Current Owner: D. Anyanwu

More information:

Equality Act 2010, legislation.gov.uk (2010)

Social and legal issues for people with HIV, NAM (2010)