Currently, every sector is being plagued by employee absence, long-term sickness, lateness, and resignations. To be frank, they’re plagued with all the other employment issues that can give managers unwanted stress. We talk about these issues every month in our HR Blogs. This month, however, we want to talk about a tricky one. That’s employee long-term sickness, and how long you have to keep a job open for someone off sick.
If you are an employee, looking to find out how long you can stay off before your boss starts making tough decisions, you may way want to read our other article. If you are an employer looking to make those tough decisions, you are in the right place.
We all understand that sickness can happen to us all and at any point. But employers have extra considerations to take into account. As an employer, you often face a difficult balancing act. You must balance the needs of the company as a whole against the needs of the individuals who comprise the workforce.
If an employee is off sick for an extended period of time and that long-term sickness is hampering your business, you may be thinking: Can’t I just get rid of them? Well, no. Legally speaking the length of time an employee can be off sick (providing that it is genuine) is unlimited. There is no concrete legal timeline for long-term absence. You just have to follow a proper procedure surrounding it.
The Initial Process
What is that procedure? Well, whenever a staff member is absent, you need to:
- Understand why the staff member is off sick: This will give you an idea of how long it may last initially and give you time to prepare changes.
- Understand how the absence affects the employee: Do they need any support? Can they perform their role virtually?
- Understand how the absence affects the other employees: How does this affect team productivity? Does your organisation have an appropriate support structure?
- Understand how the absence affects the business processes: Is your business structured to succeed with the loss of an employee?
- See the big picture!
If an employee is sick for an extended period of time you need to ensure you have fully understood the nature of their illness.
For example, if their absence is due to disability you would be at risk of a discrimination/unfair dismissal claim. So make sure you have several meetings to guide your decision-making where you obtain relevant medical information. For these meetings, make sure to give them a written invitation with the option of bringing a colleague to witness and or a family member/friend for support.
It is also important that you document all your attempts to make reasonable adjustments to help aid your employees return to work, and their response to those suggestions. These can include but are not limited to, adjustments to the role, physical adjustments or providing aids for the employee. It could also mean that you provided the opportunity for lighter duties, or a slow phased return to work. This evidence will help you in the event of a false unfair dismissal claim.
So, are you thinking about dismissing them?
If you have held formal absence review meetings, have tried all options to make reasonable adjustments to help their return to work, have given them a reasonable time to recover and have received advice from a medical professional that the employee in question will not be able to return to work any time soon, THEN you may consider dismissing them. Crucially, you must be able to clearly show, despite the adjustments you have provided, the employee can not continue to do their job. If so, then it might be appropriate to dismiss this member of staff.
In this case the employee has more protection than you do. So, as an employer you need to ensure that the procedure is followed and that all evidence is collected. When it comes to compliance in this matter, you need to be extra strict. Following proper procedure can save you thousands of pounds in unwanted tribunal costs.
The dismissal process…
Firstly, you need to make sure that you have acted in a fair and reasonable manner. Although there is no official legal definition of ‘reasonableness’, there are steps you can take to make the process as fair as possible. You must set out your own dismissal and disciplinary rules and procedures in writing (preferably in an employee handbook) and follow this process. If you do not you could be ordered to pay compensation by a tribunal.
After following the steps outlined above and have exhausted all options, you need to inform your employee of your consideration for dismissal. This can be done verbally via phone or video call but must be confirmed in writing. It is also important that the employee is made aware of their point of contact, if they need to communicate with them and their rights to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative. In addition to this, make sure the employee is aware of their right to appeal the decision. Finally, you must give the employee their accrued holiday pay and their contractual notice.
Dealing with long term-sickness dismissals is difficult. They are never a black and white and need to be determined on a case by case basis. To ensure complete compliance, and protect you from getting to tribunal, you need to talk to professionals. If you would like more information feel free to contact one of our HR experts today. Wurkplace deal with these kinds of cases all the time, and help businesses across the UK stay compliant and protected – Give us a call on 0330 400 5490 to talk.
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