I am employed in UK and I am on sick leave, certified by a GP. What restrictions do I have during this period, in terms of things I can/cannot do?

I am not talking about blatantly unprofessional things, like consulting for another company while sick, but things like going out for a walk during work hours when at home sick.

EDIT: In some countries you have to stay at home at certain hours during the day, independently from your sickness (flu/broken arm/depression). I am trying to understand if in UK it's the same.

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    No opinions required here: I am specifically asking for UK law regulations and how these might affect me. – Monoandale Sep 13 '15 at 11:42
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    @Monoandale: in that case, definitely off-topic as you're asking for legal advice. – Philip Kendall Sep 13 '15 at 11:44
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    @PhilipKendall Asking for appropriate legislation isn't necessarily off topic, however I very, very much doubt that the legislation would cover what is or what isn't an acceptable activity while on sick leave. As you say, it very much depends on the context under which you are on sick leave for. – Jane S Sep 13 '15 at 11:46
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    In the UK, the Citizens' Advice Bureau offers excellent, professional advice from employment law experts - all for free. I'd suggest contacting them. – Laconic Droid Sep 13 '15 at 15:41
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    "EDIT: In some countries you have to stay at home at certain hours during the day, independently from your sickness (flu/broken arm/depression). " [Citation needed] Are you saying that even a truck delivery person has to stay at home because of a broken arm? This part makes absolutely no sense to me. Is this because they're receiving government benefits of some kind? And that someone may check up on them? Again, I'll need a citation (even if it's in a foreign language). What people think they've heard is often very far from the actual laws written down. – Stephan Branczyk Sep 13 '15 at 18:00

Legally, there are no restrictions I'm aware of: although you could leave yourself open to disciplinary procedures if you say you broke your leg and are then seen by your boss doing some mountain biking, for example. Similarly if you say you're off with severe food poisoning and are then seen at the funfair on waltzers. These are cases where you're blatantly abusing the system, though. The only legal issue is likely to be if you are claiming state benefits while off sick, and could have reasonably been at work.

Morally, it depends on what you are off with: I would generally say that you shouldn't be doing anything as strenuous as whatever you would be doing at work - otherwise why wouldn't you be at work? For example I'm unlikely to be too sick to work in an office, while being able to build a wall. This is a very complex point though, because whether you're contagious or able to work with customers may prevent you being in work, while still being relatively physically capable. Common sense should apply here.

For mental health issues it's trickier still: as work itself may be the problem. In this scenario, I would say it's important to make it clear to your manager the reason you're off, and don't "rub it in" to your colleagues, who may feel taken advantage of if they don't understand the situation and see your Facebook full of photos from the beach while they were at work.

Unfortunately, particularly with mental health issues, people aren't always as understanding as we'd like - mostly because it's unfamiliar. Everyone has had a stomach bug or the flu and can relate to how it feels, but some people simply can't comprehend depression as they've never experienced it. To avoid confusion (and potential further stress) ou may wish to consider telling colleagues (at least, direct ones) why you are off and why you are undertaking such activities. But don't feel you have to: this is between you and your manager. If you do not feel up to talking to colleagues, perhaps ask your manager to make it clear to the team why you're off and that they are aware you may be going to the funfair etc, to avoid any gossip or confusion (well meaning or otherwise)

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  • Thanks Jon! Technically I am at home (and I posted many related questions) BECAUSE of my manager. HR is aware of it. I am not the first person that my boss sends to the GP. When I come back I could find out that he's effectively untouchable, but I don't want to give him ANY reason to find me at fault while I am recovering. – Monoandale Sep 14 '15 at 11:32
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    If in doubt, then, err on the side of caution - but if it's stress related, rather than something that physically prevents you undertaking certain activities, there's little reason that you couldn't do those things. – Jon Story Sep 14 '15 at 12:54

Looking at the UK government website, it seems that the legislation is too high level to generically answer your question, which is what I expected to see.

I would suggest that "common sense" would be applied, as it is here in Australia. If you have a physical ailment then you don't do strenuous physical activity except for anything directly involved in physiotherapy. Going for a walk would be highly unlikely to be considered inappropriate in most circumstances.

For psychological or mental health issues, then it would be what your mental health care professional has prescribed as appropriate activities to assist in your recovery.

As I said in comments, it boils down to that if you have any doubt that something you are doing would be considered acceptable by a rational person while on sick leave, then don't do it :)

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