UK Sick Day Costs Could Rise by 45% in 2020


As the UK eases further out of the tight lockdown restrictions that were put in place at the end of March 2020, more and more workers are heading back into offices and factory floors that have laid dormant for nearly six months.

For employers and employees alike, the top concern is how risky it may be to expose ourselves to more people outside of our own households. After all, on a social level, restrictions in England state meetings of only two households can take place indoors, yet settings such as pubs and workplaces allow for far more households to meet inside a comparatively similar space.

Of course, the most important aspect of this is one’s health. But for businesses who are already struggling with the financial impact, could returning to work present another potential monetary pitfall in the form of sick days?

Average cost of sick days in the UK

The average UK employee will take 4.4 sick days every year. With the average salary of a full-time worker in the UK standing at £36,611 per year, that works out at £619.56 per employee per year. This works out by business size as:

Employees Median number of employees Average number of total sick days per year Average cost per year
1-9 (Micro) 5 22 £3,097.85
10-49 (Small) 30 132 £18,587.12
50-249 (Medium) 150 660 £92,935.62
249+ (Large, up to 500) 375 1650 £232,339.04


COVID infections

But, this year is unlike the average year—this year, we’re dealing with a pandemic.

According to the Office of National Statistics, “At any given time between 27 April and 10 May 2020, it is estimated that an average of 0.27% of the community population had COVID-19.”. This works out at around 179,955 people within the UK. Those who test positive for COVID-19 are instructed to remain home for 14 days.

There are 24.6 million people in full-time employment in the UK as of August 2020, making up 37% of the population. At a rate of 0.27% of the population being infected, applying this to the 24.6 million in full-time work, we can get a rough estimate of around 66,420 full-time workers being potentially infected during this time frame. This gives us a general picture of how many people could be infected in the workplace at any given time.

With 60% of business employment being directed to SMEs, this would mean around 39,852 infected people potentially working for micro, small, or medium businesses. This works out at less than one employee per business within the micro and small sectors, and around two employees per business within the medium business sector. With 40% of employment held in large business, the remaining 26,568 infected workers have a smaller number of firms to be shared out across—resulting in an average of three potentially infected workers per large business.


Naturally then, if an employee has COVID-19, they have to self-isolate for 14 days. They may be able to work from home, of course, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

For this scenario, let’s see what would happen if one employee per business called in sick with COVID-19 symptoms and had to be off sick for the full 14, (i.e. not working from home but resting).

Employees Median number of employees Average number of total sick days Average cost  +1 employee CV19 Yearly sick day cost Percentage
1-9 5 22 £3,097.85 £1,408.12 £4,505.97 45.45%
10-49 30 132 £18,587.12 £1,408.12 £19,995.24 7.58%
50-249 150 660 £92,935.62 £1,408.12 £94,343.73 1.52%
249+ (up to 500) 375 1650 £232,339.04 £1,408.12 £233,747.15 0.61%





As we can see, in this scenario, a micro-business—which makes up 1,155,385 businesses out of the UK’s 5.9 million businesses overall and 95% of all SMEs—would see their yearly sick day costs soar by 45%.


It goes without saying that protecting staff is paramount. But with the pandemic potentially bringing additional sick day costs, particularly to small businesses, investing in PPE supplies such as hand sanitiser and microfibre cloths and implementing preventative measures are a must.



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