Long-Term Sickness

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Tuesday, Oct 11, 2022

For many businesses, managing long-term sickness can prove to be difficult. Long-term leave can add strain and create a financial burden on your business. So, it’s crucial to support your employee’s return to work.

Failing to check in with sick employees, or having unfair long-term absence rules, can lead to mishandling situations. In the end, you could face unfair dismissal claims and tribunal hearings.

This guide will explain what long-term sickness is, what absence rights are, and how to manage sick leave.

What is Long-Term Sickness?

Long-term sickness is a period of continuous absence from work of four weeks or more.

This type of absence can derive from many things, such as:

As an employer, you have a legal duty of care to safeguard employee wellbeing.

With long-term sick, keeping in touch is vital. This can help employees still feel like valuable members of the team. As well as provide them with support for managing their situation.

Both the employee and employer should stay in regular contact during the absence. They should both agree:

  • How often the contact should be.
  • Whether the contact should be by email, phone or face-to-face.
  • Who the contact is with.

Long-Term Sickness Employment Rights

All your employees have rights when it comes to being absent from work. To ensure you’re following the law, you need to assess whether your employee is able to return to work.

When managing poor health, there are two key legislations to bear in mind:

  1. The Employment Rights Act 1996: This deals with termination of employment on ill-health grounds.
  2. The Equality Act 2010: This covers disability and other types of discrimination.

Under the Equality Act, you must provide reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability. This will enable them to return to work and continue their role.

Long-Term Sick Pay

Under employment law, employees can receive up to 28 weeks of statutory sick pay (SSP).

The current long term sick pay entitlement is £99.35 a week. To be eligible for SSP, employees must:

  • Be in current employment.
  • Earn a minimum of £123 per week.
  • Abide by your absence policy and process.
  • Must not receive other pay for maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave, or paternity pay.

Employees have the right to be paid for up to 28 weeks. After this, employees can apply for employment and support allowance (ESA) if needed.

Going on long term sick can place a financial burden on your business, so it’s important to understand why your employee is absent and for how long.

How Long Can You Be on Long Term Sickness?

There is no real timeline for an employee to return to work after being absent.

As an employer, it is up to you to manage it. There are several ways you can help your employee return to work, such as:

  • Find alternative placements.
  • Amend their work duties.
  • Provide workplace adjustments.

If you have provided these options to your employee and it hasn’t helped, you may be able to dismiss them. This should be a last resort if you have exhausted all other options.

Managing Long Term Sickness

Through good management, you can reduce long term absence, support employees returning to work, and ensure fair treatment throughout.

Here is a step-by-step process to follow:

Hold an Informal Absence Meeting

If your employee has been absent and has no plans to return, invite them to work for a meeting.

But be flexible, offer to have the meeting virtually or at their home, if they’re unable to travel.

During the meeting, you should:

  • Be empathetic of their condition.
  • Understand how it’s impacted their work abilities.
  • Outline potential workplace adjustments.
  • Present a plan to help them return to work.

Take notes during the meeting, as this stands as essential evidence if needed during future tribunals.

To gather further information, you should contact the employee’s doctor or GP. This will help you assess how long the absence could last. This can only be done via written consent.

Hold a Formal Absence Meeting

If your employee remains absent, you should consider a second meeting.

This should follow the same format as your first meeting, but you will now have more information.

You can review any actions that have been taken following your first meeting.

Hold a Final Absence Meeting

You should hold a final meeting if your employee is still off work and the medical information suggests they’re unable to return to work in the near future.

In this meeting, you may consider whether to terminate employment on health grounds. Before making any final decisions, you need to assess the medical report from their doctor or GP.

Can you Dismiss an Employee on Long Term Sickness?

Dismissing an employee is never easy, but it may be the only way if you have done everything you can.

You should consider whether to end their employment if:

  • They are unable to return to work in the near future.
  • There are no workplace adjustments that can assist a return to work.

The dismissal should depend on their condition, role, and impact their absence has on your business. You will need to show why your business can’t support the absence anymore.

Get Help with Long Term Sickness with BrightHR

Dealing with long term sickness can be tricky.

But if you have tried every option to help your employee return to work, you may need to consider dismissal. You should gather all the evidence from your employee’s health provider before ending an employee’s contract.

If not, you could face unfair dismissal claims and even tribunal hearings.

BrightHR can help you manage long term sickness with our BrightAdvice helpline. Don’t hesitate to call us if you need any help with long term sick rights.

Book a free demo today or give us a call on 08007832806

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