When an employee is off sick for a long time, it can often feel like you are walking a tight rope as an employer. On the one hand, you recognise that your employee is sick and sympathise with them, but on the other hand sick leave can be a significant financial burden to a small business. It’s often very difficult to cover the absent employee’s work, it can place additional burdens on other employees, and it can also adversely impact your ability to run your business.
It’s often the case that a small business will adopt an ‘enough is enough’ mind-set at some point, and that can lead to making the wrong judgement calls, and could land you in hot water especially in relation to potential disability discrimination claims. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider before making the call to terminate the employment of someone who has been off on long-term sickness:
- Create a written record of the impact on your business of continued absence by the employee, both financial and the impact it has on other members of staff.
- Make sure you keep detailed records of the contents of your meetings with the employee (it is often useful to have someone else there you can trust, simply as a note taker).
- Try to obtain some further medical information from the employee’s GP or an occupational health provider and consider making use of the government’s free Fit for Work Service.
- Make reasonable adjustments where possible.
- Follow a fair and formal procedure right to the end, even if that means further delays.
- Consider any new information, even if it’s given to you right at the last minute.
- Adjourn any hearing if need be whilst you investigate new information.
- Be too hasty in reaching your final decision – remember your process needs to be fair and a failure to act reasonably can leave you facing a costly unfair dismissal and/or discrimination claim.
- Make your employee feel guilty, or approach the situation without empathy.
- Pre-judge the procedure outcome– the purpose of following a formal procedure and meetings is to listen to your employee and consider anything new they have to say, even if what they say will require you to investigate further or obtain new medical evidence.
- Assume that the adverse impact on your business is caused by the employee’s absence is “obvious” and doesn’t need spelling out in detail.
These are basic dos and don’ts, and long-term sickness is a large and complex area that can pose even more risks especially in relation to disability discrimination, so the best course of action is always to seek professional advice.
If you would like to discuss how this guidance relates to a case of long term sickness absence you are currently dealing with, get in touch today and one of our HR consultants will be happy to help you.