Are employees entitled to sick pay for elective and cosmetic surgery?

Losing employees while they recover from ill health can be difficult

First of all, before we start, it would be useful to define what elective and cosmetic surgery actually are. The two are often confused.
Cosmetic surgery (commonly known as “boob” jobs, nose jobs, Botox etc.) is intended to improve a person’s appearance rather than their health. Elective surgery applies to any surgery that is scheduled in advance, doesn’t involve a medical emergency and does not have to be performed within 24 hours.
Naturally, your first concern will be for your employee. Potential absence and performance concerns shouldn’t be too far behind – especially for a smaller business that is less able to pass the workload on to others.
Losing key employees for long periods can keep small business owners up at night with endless questions buzzing through their heads. However, the big questions are, ‘What do you pay them? Do you ride it out? How do you approach it with the rest of your team?’

Statutory sick pay for elective and cosmetic surgery

All employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) when they are unfit to work – as long as they follow the proper procedures and provide the appropriate certification. If they are indeed unfit to work, and have provided you with the correct notice, SSP should be paid. This is the case whatever the surgery was for, or whatever the motivation was for having it done.

Contractual sick pay for elective and cosmetic surgery

But Contractual Sick Pay is in your control. Here, you go on your documentation – so make sure it truly reflects the needs of your business.
Some businesses choose to exclude payments for cosmetic procedures. This isn’t something we’d recommend due to the wide-ranging definition of what a cosmetic procedure actually is – and whether the process is being undertaken to improve the psychological health of the individual. Therefore, we’d recommend judging each case on its own merits, ensuring all decisions made are consistent.

How to keep your team in the know

You will, of course, need to keep your team in the know. Strict confidentiality must be adhered to here. You can’t disclose information about any medical procedure without the employee’s consent. If you do have their consent, inform their team if you think it’s appropriate. If it’s explained to the team, they will understand why they’re having to pick-up any extra work.
There are some situations that have to be discussed and planned in advance e.g. an individual going through a sex change process – this can take up to three years to complete. A lot of planning and thought must go into this and you will need professional HR guidance and support to avoid pitfalls and discrimination claims.
So, to summarise, making necessary changes to your policies will ensure you are protected. Be consistent in your approach and, if you’re ever unsure, always seek professional HR advice.

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Ian heads up the HR Dept Edinburgh & the Lothians team. The HR Dept specialises in helping SMEs with everything to with employment, through a local and personal service delivering practical and pragmatic advice and support. With nearly 30 years HR experience, Ian has a wealth of experience in helping businesses to ensure success through their people, be legally compliant and handle tricky people issues. As a business owner himself, Ian understands the challenges that come with running and growing a business. He is known for his ability to explain complex concepts simply and to make learning fun and enjoyable.