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Handling long-term absence

fit for work
Make sure you know how to handle long term sickness correctly.

In this first part of a two part article, Amanda Jefferies explains how handling long-term absence in the workplace is a delicate matter.


The illness may be serious, it may involve an operation and recovery time, or could be a mental health problem. A sympathetic approach will be required;
or you may suspect an illness is being drawn out to delay a return to work.

Although these scenarios are very different, any long-term absence can be a strain on a business and it is important that they are handled correctly to try and avoid employment law claims being brought.

Amanda Jeffries
Amanda Jefferies, is a specialist employment solicitor and director of Bradley and Jefferies Commercial Solicitors. She advises clients on all aspects of employment law, from drafting contracts of employment and other policies and procedures, to defending all manner of Employment Tribunal claims. She has wide experience of presenting workshops and seminars and is widely regarded as a leading speaker upon employment issues and has spoken at prestigious events such as the ACAS annual conference. You can visit the webite here or call her on 01332 221722.

We outline below some of the key steps to be taken initially in a long-term absence case. Please note that the rest of the steps will be set out next time in part 2 of the article. If you require any advice about this tricky area, do not hesitate to contact us.
Part 1
First of all, check the employee’s contract of employment to see what they should be paid during sickness absence and what the company’s sickness absence reporting procedure says.

You must automatically carry over the four weeks’ statutory annual leave to which employees are entitled if they can’t take it due to long-term sickness. However, the additional 1.6 weeks they receive via the UK’s Working Time Regulations (to make up the overall 5.6 weeks total), don’t carry over unless you’ve expressly agreed to it. Make this clear in your holidays’ policy.

If sick pay over and above statutory sick pay (SSP) is discretionary, ensure you exercise your discretion reasonably and fairly.

Ensure the employee complies with your sickness absence reporting procedure, both in terms of maintaining regular contact with you during their absence and submitting regular medical certificates (called statements of fitness for work or “fit notes”). Keep records of all correspondence and telephone calls.

With the employee’s prior written consent, obtain a medical report from the employee’s doctor or consultant on the nature and likely duration of the employee’s illness and the prognosis for the future. If necessary, ask the employee to undergo a medical examination by your own occupational health practitioner.

Fit for Work (FfW) is a government service for employers, employees and GPs. It is free to use and is comprised of two elements:
  • health and work advice and

  • a referral service providing an independent occupational health assessment and a return-to-work plan for employees who have been off sick from work, or who are likely to be off sick, for four weeks or more. It’s optional so you don’t have to use the service, and nor must you implement the recommendations set out in a return-to-work plan. However, as the recommendations might constitute a reasonable adjustment for a disability under the Equality Act 2010 don’t simply ignore them. If you want to use the service you must obtain the employee’s consent for a FfW referral or ask them to confirm that their GP has already referred them. You can make a referral for an assessment by completing the online referral form or by phone. You can’t make a referral earlier than four weeks - only the employee’s GP can do that.

If the absence is stress-related, refer the employee to any counselling service that you may provide.

If the employee refuses to agree to a medical report or medical examination, you may be entitled to act on the facts currently available.

To be continued next month...

February 2017

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