Managing long-term absence

A common cause of concern for Managers and business owners is the absence of employees due to long-term sickness. In my experience Managers are often nervous in relation to how they should manage long-term sickness absence given the potentially sensitive nature of this area.

Here at Einon HR we often are asked “When is an employee classed as long-term sick”? “How do we get them back to work”? “Can we or should we contact the employee whilst they are sick”? “What happens if they are too unwell to return to work”?

An employee is normally considered as long-term once they have been absent for 4 weeks or more.

Throughout any absence Managers should discuss options with the employee which may facilitate their return to work, including adjustments to their work or a phased return. If the employer decides they wish to obtain medical advice they need to write to the employee and seek the employees consent before approaching the employee’s Doctor or Consultant.

Employers should regular keep in touch with their employees if they are absent, it is also advisable to hold a “welfare” meeting with the employee in order to discuss their absence and to get an up date on their state of health.

When medical advice is obtained it may state that the employee is unlikely to be able to return to work in the foreseeable future due to ill-health, and provided there are no alternative roles or reasonable adjustments that could be made to help the employee return, the employer would need to arrange a capability hearing and dismiss the employee on the grounds of ill-health capability, although this would be the final step an employer would take and only after full consideration of all the circumstances of the employees situation.

Employees who are deemed to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 are entitled to have reasonable adjustments considered by the employer, to help them at work or return to work. Failure to make reasonable adjustments could result in a disability discrimination claim. Employees with over two years’ service who are either dismissed, or with whom the employer fails to keep in touch with during any long-term sickness absence, may decide to bring a claim for unfair or constructive unfair dismissal against the employer.

Long-term absence therefore, is something that can benefit from a proactive response and having clear policies and procedures which create consistency and add clarity for Managers.

If you need an absence policy or a review of your existing policy please give us a call.