Managing long-term sickness absence in any business is difficult.  But if you are a small business it can be even more difficult, and have a significant effect on your bottom line.  But what can you do? Or more importantly, what CAN’T you do?

This latest blog will hopefully provide you with some initial advice surrounding the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s), but if you require further assistance please do get in touch.  A member of our expert HR team can review your situation and provide you with preliminary advice, and arrange a suitable time for further discussions should you need additional support.

Q) I have an employee off with long-term sickness absence, what can I do to cover their work?

A) You will need to assess if work colleagues can manage the workload on a temporary basis. If the situation is likely to be on-going then it would be reasonable to consider whether you need to hire someone on a temporary contract. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you keep your sick employee informed so they do not feel like they have been permanently replaced.

Q) Should I stay in regular contact with my employee? And what is considered reasonable?

A) If you have an employee off with long-term sickness absence it is important that you maintain regular contact with them regarding their situation. This is beneficial for both parties concerned. It is quite common for some employees to express concern about this prospect, but it is important that you work with them to develop a clear plan of contact.  If you have an absence policy then this will hopefully clarify acceptable levels of contact.  If not, then discuss this with the employee concerned explaining that you wish to support them during this period, and regular contact is part of that support mechanism.

If their reason for sickness absence requires medical intervention/support then plan contact after key medical review dates so that you are able to keep up to date with their progress.   Or if the absence is likely to span for an extended period then develop a plan with them for contact periods & reviews – these can be held at their home address, with their consent, if this is more appropriate for the employee.  Every case will need to be judged on its own merits – so try to be flexible in your approach, but consistent.

Q) Does my employee accrue holiday during their long-term sickness absence?

A) Yes. If the absence continues for an extended period then the accrued holiday can be carried over to the next leave year (in situations where the employee was unable to take the accrued holiday in the current leave year). If your employee leaves then they should be paid in lieu of unused holiday.

Q) Can I seek medical information from an employee’s GP regarding their continued absence?

A) Yes, you can seek consent from your employee to contact their GP and request a report on their sickness absence. In order to get the most from this report it is important to be clear about what questions you want answered. Ask objective questions like: What is the medical Diagnosis?  What is the likely prognosis? What is the treatment?  What is the timescale for return to work?  What duties will the employee be able to perform upon their return to work? What reasonable adjustments will the employee require, if any?  And for what period of time?  What working arrangements could make the return to work process easier for the employee?  By providing the GP with a full list of duties and a full job description it will be easier for the GP to provide you with a meaningful report.

Q) Can I dismiss an employee for continued long-term sickness absence?

A) Dismissing an employee due to continued long-term sickness absence would usually mean dismissing them on the grounds of capability, i.e. proving they are not capable to do the job they are employed to do. Taking this approach can be a very complicated and lengthy process. Every case is different, and so a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question cannot be given without a full review of all the information.  Ensuring you have a detailed and thorough sickness absence management policy in place is essential for any business considering this approach.  If you wish to discuss further, and receive further support on this topic then get in touch – a member of our expert HR team will be happy to advise you.

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