If you are a business owner or manager with employees, long-term absence is an issue you may well have to deal with at some point. Having a key employee off sick for an extended period can have a significant impact on your business, so it is important both for your company and your employees that you handle this issue correctly.
If you currently have an employee who has been off work for a long period, or simply want to make sure you are prepared for all eventualities, it is a good idea to have a plan in place to deal with long-term absentees. Ideally, provisions for dealing with long -term absence should be included in employee’s contracts of employment.
Above all, it is absolutely vital that you deal with long-term absenteeism in a legally rigorous way to ensure you treat your employees fairly and do not end up facing legal action for doing the wrong thing. This applies both when you believe your employee’s illness is genuine, and when you have cause to suspect that it is not.
In this article, we look at what you need to know to manage long-term absentees correctly so you can protect your business and the people who work for you.
What is considered long-term absence?
If an employee is off work for more than 4 weeks due to illness, this can be considered long-term sickness. If an employee is off work sick for more th an 7 days in a row (including non-working days) they must supply you with a "fit note" from their doctor. Fit notes are more commonly known as "sick notes".
Common reasons for long-term absence
There are many reasons why an employee might be absent for an extended period with an illness, including both physical and mental health issues. In modern workplaces, stress is an increasingly common reason for long-term absence.
Unfortunately, some employees will fake or exaggerate illness to avoid returning to work. These situations can often be hard to judge as an employer, especially where the stated reason for the employee’s illness is to do with mental health.
You need to be extremely careful if you are considering questioning the legitimacy of an employee’s illness or using this as grounds to dismiss them, as you could end up facing legal action if they feel you have treated them unfairly.
Your legal responsibilities as an employer
If you have an employee who is off with a long-term sickness, they are entitled to:
- Annual leave.
- Statutory sick pay (if they have been off for 4 or more days in a row including non-working days and they meet the eligibility requirements). You are required to pay statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks at the current rate of £89.35.
- Return to work. If an employee has become disabled as a result of an illness, you should make all reasonable adjustments to help them return to work. This may include measures such as adjusting their working hours, allowing them to work from home or adapting equipment for their use.
Can you dismiss an employee due to long-term absence?
You may be able to dismiss an employee who is off with a long-term sickness, but this option should only be used when all other options have been exhaust.
Before dismissing an employee with long-term sickness, you must first:
- Consult with the employee as to any improvement in their condition.
- Discuss with the employee when they might be able to return to work.
- Look at all reasonable options for them returning to work, including flexible or part-time working, or switching to a different role, where appropriate.
An employee can take their case to an employment tribunal if they think you have unfairly dismissed them. You should therefore discuss your options with a solicitor before making this decision to avoid any potential negative consequences.
Get expert legal advice for your business
Slade Legal is a well-established law firm operating out of 3 offices across Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley. Our highly experienced solicitors specialise in all areas of business, including employment law.
Whether you are creating employment contracts, looking to resolve issues with existing employees, or experiencing any other type of employment issue, we can help you find a legally sound resolution that takes into account your commercial interests.
To find out more or to book a consultation, please get in touch.