What is acceptable to do when you’re off work sick?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
November 15, 2023, 1:00 AM GMT+0

Shopping for non-essential items and socialising are frowned upon

You woke up feeling rotten, called your boss and got permission to take the day off sick. Now what do you do with yourself? A new YouGov survey asked the public what they think are acceptable and unacceptable sick day activities.

Unsurprisingly, taking to your sick bed to sleep is the most acceptable thing we asked about, with 97% of Britons saying it’s ok.

Readings, watching TV and browsing the internet are all likewise acceptable sick day activities to almost all Britons (93-96%). People are more circumspect about playing video games (78%) and making posts on social media (66%), although they are still seen as fine by large majorities.

Stepping out to buy some supplies to treat your illness is also near universally accepted (94%), although more surprisingly opinion is not so unanimous for running essential errands like picking a child up from school or food shopping (67%).

The reason non illness-related essential errands score less highly is because older Britons are far less likely to say they are acceptable. In fact, as many as 40% of 50-64 year olds and 45% of the over-65s say it is unacceptable to pick up children or groceries if you have taken the day off sick.

Older Britons are less accepting of just about every activity on the survey – and for those things they do tend to accept, they are more likely to say they are only “somewhat acceptable” than their younger counterparts.

There were three items on the survey that most Britons deemed unacceptable sick day activities. One is going out shopping for non-essential items, which 76% of Britons disapprove of.

Another unacceptable sick day activity to Britons is doing work for another job, which 88% say is unacceptable. That said, this is not something that employees are blanket banned from doing – a 2011 tribunal ruled that an employee who was medically unfit from one job could claim sick pay for another job that she was well enough to do.

The most unacceptable sick day activity is going to the pub with friends, which 90% deem unacceptable. However, again, sick workers actually can go to the pub if the nature of their sickness does not require them to stay at home to recover, or if doing so does not specifically breach their employer’s disciplinary policies.

See the full results here

Photo: Getty