How should I dismiss an employee for long term sickness absence?

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employee illness
Managing long term sickness absence requires a considerate approach, it doesn’t mean an employer has to wait indefinitely until the employee is fit to return to work. It’s about being sympathetic to the employee’s circumstances and making reasonable adjustments, if appropriate but above all recognising medical expertise and help is required. Even when an illness is genuine and the employee is signed off from work, an employer can dismiss an employee if the strain and the impact of the employee’s absence on the business is such that the employer cannot continue to tolerate the ongoing absence.

When an employee is being signed off unfit for work by their GP or Consultant, it’s always important to keep communication with the employee open. Agree a time each week they can call or you will call them. This is to ask them for an update on their health and prognosis, but also for you to keep them up to date with what’s going on at work. Keeping communication and dialogue going increases the rate the employee returns to work earlier and fewer issues.

However, once it becomes apparent the employee has little or no prognosis of a return to work in the near future, it is important to obtain medical opinion before any decision is made on their continued employment. The benefit of opting for an Occupational Health Therapist report over a GP or Consultant report is that the Occupational Health Therapist will ask about the employee’s job, duties they are expected to undertake, learn about the business etc. and any medical opinion given takes this into consideration. This is invaluable for an employer who is perhaps considering dismissal on long term absence grounds, which by the way, is a fair reason to dismiss.

Armed with a medical opinion, a meeting is held, allowing the employee to be accompanied or represented to discuss the findings of the report and perhaps what adjustments can be considered, if any. In the event the employee is dismissed on incapacity grounds and a potential claim for discrimination or unfair dismissal, having requested medical and advice and taken it on board strengthens the employer’s decision in an Employment Tribunal.

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