How should you manage an employee who has been absent on sick leave for an extended period of time?
Steps to be taken
- Ensure you have a strong absence policy in place that has been launched to all staff. This should include clarity and guidance on Company sick pay, notification and certification requirements.
Adopt a common practice of completing ‘back to work’ interviews with all staff who have been absent on sick leave (certified and uncertified) regardless of the duration or illness.
- Absence records should be maintained and discussed openly at meetings.
- All staff absent for longer than X number of days(to be decided by the Co) should submit a sick certificate from their doctor to their Manager. This needs to be followed up and tightly managed.
If the absence lasts longer than the first certificate the employee must submit weekly/monthly certs to their Manager and again this should be tightly managed. At this stage the Manager is entitled to hire replacement staff to cover the employee’s role but only on a temporary basis.
- The Manager should maintain regular contact with the employee to monitor the status of their condition and ascertain when they are likely to come back to work. Regular contact throughout the absence is encouraged to maintain the individual’s connection to the workplace. However, this should be reasonable.
- When this absence extends beyond 13+ months (as a general guide) the employer is in a better position to take a more detailed look at the absence and likelihood of return to work.
- This can be a good time to manage the communications with the individual directly, invite them in for a general discussion and make them aware that their employment is under review
- Arrange for initial/further consultation with Occupational Health Advisor to determine the likely duration of absence and/or if there is anything the Company can do to facilitate the employees return to work.
- Supports would include: reduced working hours, lighter duties, support in managing a grievance, an alternative role etc.
- If it is determined that the employee cannot return to work in the foreseeable future or the doctor/Occupational Health Advisor cannot provide an approximate return to work date employers can decide to move towards termination on the grounds of frustration or capability. Employers must ensure however that all fair and reasonable options have been considered with medical advice stating that there is no possibility of return to work within a reasonable period of time before this decision is taken.
There is no set time frame in law of absence before employers are permitted to make the decision to dismiss, as this is centred on the individual circumstances and the process that has been followed.
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