Businesses who fail to successfully manage long-term sickness could leave themselves open to costly unfair dismissal claims. In this article I outline a five-step process for employers…
The precise definition of long-term sickness will depend on each individual company’s HR policies and procedures. However, there are some generally accepted elements: consecutive sick leave lasting more than four weeks and a serious physical or mental illness requiring a lengthy recovery period.
I recommend regularly reviewing your organisation’s sickness policy to ensure it is both legally compliant and strikes the right balance between being sensitive and effective. To help you, here is my five-step process…
1. Formal meeting to discuss the long-term sickness
Typically, this should be arranged when absence reaches the four-week threshold and there is no prospect of an imminent return to work. Be reasonable and flexible when arranging a convenient time and place, including offering the option of a video call. Remember that the employee can be accompanied by a family member.
The purpose of the meeting is to understand the health of the employee and to discuss reasonable adjustments that you as an employer can make to aid their return to work. Make sure you take comprehensive notes for your own records and to prove the fairness of the HR process.
2. Follow up in writing
Send a copy of the meeting notes to the employee when you inform them of your plan to arrange suitable adjustments. Your response needs to consider the impact of the long-term sickness on the business, including the extra workload on colleagues and financial costs.
If necessary, you can ask the opinion of health professionals or write to your employee’s GP to gather further medical information. The employee has the right to view their GP’s responses before you receive them.
3. Second absence meeting
If your employee remains absent for a further month, you can call a second meeting to discuss the long-term sickness. The format should be the same as the first meeting, with discussions around any new information you have collected. Review any actions or adjustments that have been made.
4. Final meeting
If the employee remains absent with no plan to return to work, you should ask them to attend a final meeting. Make it clear that the meeting is necessary to decide whether you will terminate their employment, and discuss any remaining options to help them return to work. If they are still unable to resume their duties, you can begin the process of a capability dismissal.
5. Review the legal stuff
Beware: if the employee has more than two years’ service or has a disability, you are at risk of an unfair dismissal and discrimination claim. This is why it is worth spending time to ensure your policies and procedures are up to scratch.
During the above process the employee is entitled to long-term sickness leave entitlements, such as statutory sick pay (SSP). In the UK, most workers are allowed up to 28 weeks of SSP, provided they are an official employee and earn a minimum of £120 per week. After 28 weeks, they can apply for employment and support allowance (ESA).
Anyone with a long-term sickness can carry over their unused holiday leave into the next annual period. They will also need to be paid for any outstanding leave when employment is terminated.
Dealing with long-term sickness can be difficult, so businesses should seek professional advice. JT HRConsultancy is an established HR services company based in Bedfordshire with clients across the UK. Please contact me if you need help of advice on an employment issue.