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Q: We want to hold a disciplinary hearing with an employee following alleged theft from the Company. She was suspended on full pay and the day before the disciplinary hearing, we received a doctor’s certificate for four weeks with “stress”. What do we do? A: Employees should be given a reasonable opportunity to attend a disciplinary hearing so that they have an opportunity to respond to the disciplinary charges. Having received the sick note stating that the employee is unfit to attend work due to stress, it would seem prudent to adjourn the hearing until after the four-week period. If, however, this is followed by a further sick note you should deal with the matter as you would any sickness absence. It would be reasonable for you to make investigation into the precise nature of the illness and seek a medical opinion as to when the employee is likely to be well enough to return. A doctor could certainly be asked to advise as to whether the employee is well enough to attend a disciplinary hearing, notwithstanding her unfitness to carry out her normal job. It would be wise to check whether attendance at the disciplinary hearing is likely to exacerbate the employee’s condition. As the disciplinary charges are very serious and could result in summary dismissal, acting with undue haste in the frustration of this delay could render a dismissal unfair. You may need to investigate the genuineness of the illness: Is this a delaying tactic or a genuine problem? Could the illness have played a part in the misconduct now alleged? Can others, such as the employee’s colleagues, shed any light on the situation? Addressing such questions will help you to bring the matter to a fair and reasonable conclusion.

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