What Are You Allowed To Do When Off Sick? Acceptable Activities

Thinking about what are you allowed to do when off sick can weigh heavily on your mind. Workers can be concerned about what types of activity are acceptable when signed off. Nobody wants to be accused of dishonesty.

It’s not necessarily off limits to socialise when off work sick.

Some people even worry about whether is OK to be seen out of the house during sick leave. But if your reason for phoning in sick isn’t incompatible with leaving the house, it’s usually acceptable to go out.  

Our guide looks at what you can do during time off from work, and what you can’t.

Employer Concerns About Sick Leave

Employers can be concerned about dishonesty around the use of sick leave. As an employee you may fear disciplinary action if you are suspected of misusing sick pay policies.

The good news is, that there are a wide range of things you can do during time off work ill. As long as your activities could not be interpreted as dishonest, there shouldn’t be repercussions.

For example, being seen out at the pub with friends when you’re supposed to be suffering a vomiting bug would be dishonest. Activities like going out to the supermarket for food, or going to the pharmacy for medication would be fine.

Acceptable Activities When Off Sick

It’s important for both employers and employees to understand that you don’t always have to stay at home during ill health.

There are plenty of acceptable activites that you should be able to carry out without fear of being summoned to a disciplinary meeting on your return to work.

Our guide looks at some common activities and breaks down what you can do when signed off work.

Can You Leave The House When Off Sick?

You can absolutely leave the house when you are signed off sick. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to be seen out and about to get essential items.

For example, you might go to the chemist to get some medication. You may also need to go shopping to buy food or other items you need.

Acceptable reasons to leave the house when off sick will depend upon the nature of the illness you’ve reported to your employer.

If you are signed off work with stress or other mental health issues, these would not stop you leaving the house and engaging in a range of activities. This might include going out for a meal, shopping for clothes, or other leisure activities.

However, being seen engaged in similar activities when you’re supposed to be laid up in bed with a bad back would likely result in disciplinary action.

Can You Go on Holiday Whilst Off Sick?

In most cases, you can go on holiday when you’re signed off sick. So long as the nature of your illness means you’d be fit to travel, but not fit for work, it’s perfectly acceptable. Holidays abroad are also acceptable.

There are also situations where taking a holiday would help with recovery from an illness. For example, a situation where a break would improve the health of someone on long term sick leave.  

Also, for workers suffering mental health conditions such as stress or depression, a holiday might be recommended by a GP to aid recovery.

The ACAS website has an easy to understand overview of scenarios where it would be acceptable to go on holiday during sick leave.

Can You Go to the Pub When Off Sick?

Going to the pub when on sick leave might seem to be an absolute no go area. However, there are still many scenarios where this would be fine.

If you’d called in sick with the flu, and bumped into your line manager in a bar then it’s very likely that your employer would be able to justify disciplinary action.

However, there are many conditions where you would not be fit enough to work and still able to go to the pub.

For example, a warehouse worker signed off with a heavily sprained ankle has no need to stay at home to recover. Sitting in a pub having drinks would not be contrary to the reasons for absence given on the sick note.

Similarly, someone taking time off for mental health would be able to go and socialise with friends, or have a meal. In fact, this type of activity might help with recovery and would be likely to be supported by their GP.

Disciplinary Action for Being Seen Out at the Pub  – Case Study

Even when it appears that an employee is being dishonest, a company must exercise caution in starting a disciplinary over misuse of sick leave.

The case of Colin Kane, a driver at Debmat Surfacing Ltd, highlights this. He was caught smoking outside a pub by his manager when off sick with COPD. He was later dismissed, but took his employer to an employment tribunal and won.

They had failed to demonstrate that his activity was contrary to their disciplinary policies. They also did not follow proper procedure during their investigation and his subsequent dismissal. The judge ruled that going to the pub when off ill could not necessarily be deemed gross misconduct.

Can You Apply For Jobs & Attend Interviews When Off Sick?

It’s not uncommon for employees on sick leave to consider applying for new roles, particularly if the reason for being off sick is work related.

There are a few things to consider if you’re going to brush off your CV and try to find a new job:-

  • Applying for a new job is generally acceptable when on sick leave. As long as you’re genuinely unwell, there should be no issue seeking a new role.
  • Your reference may reflect sickness absences. If you land a new job, your new employer might request references from your current role. Depending on the reference format your outgoing employer uses, your sickness absence may be mentioned.
  • There’s no legal reason you can’t attend job interviews whilst off sick. However, if you are concerned about how this might affect your relationship with your current employer, you may wish to request annual leave or unpaid leave.
  • Consider ethics. If the reason you are signed off work is not compatible with being physically fit for any role, it might raise questions about the legitimacy of your sick leave from your current employer. Some employers consider abuse of sick leave to be a disciplinary issue. Make sure you don’t leave yourself open to the stress of being investigated for misconduct.

Related: Does your employer have to give you time of work for interviews? | Worried about a bad reference?

Working a Second Job When Off Sick

There are some scenarios where it’s acceptable to continue working a second job when on sick leave.

This depends on your employment contract, and whether your reason for being off would prevent you working in the other role.

For example, if you worked in a shop and suffered a badly sprained ankle this would prevent you working. However, if you had another role that was a desk job it would be reasonable for you to continue work in that role.

Being Off Sick Doesn’t Mean You Have to Stay at Home

Finally, it can be difficult to know what you are allowed to do when off sick. However, being off ill  doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself away at home.

So long as you’ve not called in sick for dishonest reasons, it should not cause you any issues with your employer.

Further Reading

Taking time off for mental health – our guide on taking time off work when suffering from poor mental health.

One thought on “What Are You Allowed To Do When Off Sick? Acceptable Activities

  1. Jane says:

    Hi I am off work with work / medical worries with stress and depression. While being off I have been creating Christmas decorations for my friends no money has changed hands is just relaxing for me. I have also show off my skills on instagram under say Christmas decorations. Would I be in trouble for this when I return to work.

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