Sickness and Absence in Employment


Every week the Beswicks’ employment team answers dozens of questions from employers. We know first-hand the issues that are causing business-owners and HR professionals, sleepless nights. One of the biggest headaches is how to handle sickness absence, so we thought it might be useful to share with you the top three HR questions that we have received so far this year on this hot topic.

Top 3 Questions About Sickness Absence

1. I have an employee who has been off sick over the last few months, can I sack him?

No. It’s not that simple. You must discuss the reasons for the absence to see whether there’s anything you can do to help, for example, the absence could be related to a disability. After your discussion, you might need to look at the matter more formally and then consider dismissal if there is no alternative.

2. A member of staff has been off sick for a while but won’t let us speak to his doctor. We’ve had nothing more than a sick note. Do we just have to wait until he comes back to work?

There may be a clause in his contract which states you can ask for a medical assessment, so he could be breaching the contract if he is now refusing. Even without that clause, you can request consent to obtain a medical report to ensure you are better informed when dealing with the absence. However, you don’t have to wait until he returns to work. If he refuses to give consent, you can follow the formal capability process with a warning that decisions will be made, based on the evidence you have on file.

3. We’ve got an employee who’s been off sick for a month and he’s only worked with us for seven months. Can we just give notice?

You must be careful not to fall foul of the mistaken belief that dismissal before two years’ service is safe and easy. Firstly, you must consider and investigate whether the sickness is a disability and then you should discuss when they expect to return. Follow your policies/procedures and give them a chance to return which should reduce the risk of an automatically unfair dismissal claim. It’s not impossible to fairly dismiss but you must have your ducks in a row first. Don’t just see seven months service and sack on the spot.

For advice on how to safely deal with sickness absence or any other aspect of employment law, contact Laura Franklin on 01782 205000 or for unlimited access to our expert employment lawyers, find out more about our Your HR service.