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How To Handle Sickness Absence.

Date: 12/07/2013 | Corporate, Employment & HR

It is estimated that sick leave costs British businesses around £3 billion per year.  The Government have set up a number of ‘Fit for Work services’ around the country which is due to publish recommendations this summer into reducing the cost of sick leave to businesses.


Employers must recognise the requirement to be supportive of employees on sick leave, but need to bear in mind the financial and operational implications of sick leave.

Employees who are off on sick leave receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) of £86.70 per week which must be paid by the employer for up to 28 weeks.  The cost could be significantly more to the employer if they provide an enhanced/contractual sick pay scheme.

Notification of absence

Employees are entitled to self-certify for absence of less than seven days and on their return to work a return to work interview should take place.  This interview allows the reasons for the absence to be discussed and to determine if there are any underlying issues at work that may develop into longer term absences or if indeed there is an underlying medical condition which is affecting the employee.  At the return to work meeting the employer should discuss any support they can offer the employee to get back to work. A return to work meeting also notifies staff that the employer takes sick leave seriously.

It is essential to keep records of absences as once an employee has used up their SSP allowance of 28 weeks or their company sick pay has been exhausted they do not have entitlement to be paid further.

Medical Advice

If an employee is off for more than seven days, they require a ‘fit note’ from their GP to enable them to return to work.  The fit note will specify if the employee is able to return to work on a full time basis, or if they need a phased return, altered hours, amended duties and/or any workplace adaptations that are required.
Employers are under no legal duty to follow the advice given in a fit note, although it is recommended that these should be adhered to.

Even where arrangements in respect of the employee are temporary, these must be notified to the employee in writing.  If it is not possible for the employer to make the suggested reasonable adjustments set out in a fit note, the employee may be treated by the employer as being unfit for work.

Long Term Absence

Where employees’ absences become long term it is essential to maintain regular contact with the employee.  The benefits to this are twofold.  Firstly it allows the employer to show support for their employee during their time off and also enables the employer to stay updated as to any developments and/or improvements in their condition and treatment.  It should be made clear to any employee on long term absence that the employer will be keeping in regular contact with them, so that they do not feel that there is anything untoward in their employer keeping in touch. 

If the absence is long term and there is no indication of a likely return date, the next step would be to obtain a medical report.  This would entail obtaining a written authority from the employee to access their medical records or to undergo a medical examination and the outcome of this will give the best indication as how to proceed.  It may be the case that there are reasonable adjustments that could be made to the workplace to help them return however if their ill health is the result that they are incapable to fulfil the role they have been employed for then this would be a potentially fair reason for dismissal.

Other Employees

It is inevitable that if an employee is on long term sick leave their colleagues will be at least in the short term asked to cover duties and responsibilities. This places an inevitable burden on the employer to recruit temporary staff to cover for absences, or to ask existing employees to work longer hours to cover.  It is important that whilst details of any employee off sick should be kept completely confidential, that existing employees are given adequate notice of any extra work or duties the employer may require them to do.

If you would like further details about this or any other employment related issue then please do not hesitate to contact Davidson Chalmers’ Employment Team, who will be happy to provide their advice and assistance.

The matter in this publication is based on our current understanding of the law.  The information provides only an overview of the law in force at the date hereof and has been produced for general information purposes only. Professional advice should always be sought before taking any action in reliance of the information. Accordingly, Davidson Chalmers LLP does not take any responsibility for losses incurred by any person through acting or failing to act on the basis of anything contained in this publication.

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