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Dealing with Sickness Absence

Sickness absence can cause employers a great deal of lost time and money, and can cause low morale, resentment and stress for employees who have to cover for those off sick.

Sickness falls into two categories of:

Short-term sickness absence
Long-term sickness absence

Short-term sickness absence

The types of short-term sickness absence which tend to cause problems may come in different forms:

* Genuine, frequent but unrelated illness/injury
* Genuine, frequent illness/injury which has an underlying medical cause
* Suspected malingering/abuse of sickness absence system

Depending on which of these it is, it will be necessary to treat each situation in different ways. Employers should also check whether sickness is exacerbated by factors such as stress, bullying or harassment where the employer must investigate further.

Long-term sickness absence

Medical reports are extremely important in the process of dealing with long-term sickness absence, and sometimes also in the case of short-term sickness absences. There are specific legal requirements to be followed in how such a report may be obtained, depending on whether the report is from a doctor appointed by the employer or from the employees own doctor. In either case, the employees consent is required.

There should therefore be a clause in every employment contract requiring an employee to consent to such a report where it is reasonably requested. The request for a report must also be carefully drafted to ensure that all the relevant questions are asked.

Dismissal for long-term sickness absence

Having obtained the medical report and consulted fully with the employee, the employer will have to consider a number of factors to determine whether dismissal is appropriate and reasonable in each case.

The dismissal of an employee on grounds of ill-health should be a last resort after all other options have been considered and tried where appropriate including what reasonable adjustments can be made. Before deciding to dismiss, consideration should also be given to any potential risks if the employees entitlement to contractual sick pay has not yet been exhausted.

Employers are advised to ensure their policies and procedures are up to date.

Employment Law Support advises businesses on a day to day basis on managing absence to ensure it is carried out properly and reasonably.