How you deal with sickness and long term absence may differ depending on whether or not you operate a Permanent Health Insurance (income replacement during incapacity) scheme at your company If you do operate such a scheme the employee might lose benefits under the scheme if they are dismissed. So, it might make sense to keep the employee on and leave it to the insurers to take the necessary steps to facilitate a return to work- and possibly stop paying them if they are able to return, but do not do so. You do not have to wait too long before starting the procedure. It is really up to you how long you wait and depends, of course, on how urgent your need is to have someone doing the job on a reliable basis. To resolve the situation, it may help if you follow this three step procedure:

  • Firstly write to the employee. You need to explain why you want to obtain a medical report and that you need their consent to do so. Once you have the employee’s consent, write to their GP and/ or their consultant.
  • Once you have their medical report, you will need to write to the employee with a copy and invite them to attend a meeting. At this meeting, discuss the medical report, their prognosis and their likely return to work. It may also be useful to discuss any adjustments that you may be able to make, to facilitate their return to work.
  • If, however, the employee is unable to return to work in a reasonable time frame either to their old job or any new job that might be available- taking into account any adjustments that you can reasonably make- you can dismiss (on notice) but you must give them the right to an appeal.

These situations are not pleasant, but as an employer, you have to deal with them and you have to deal with them appropriately. Do not ignore them, but rather act promptly and consistently in each case. Most importantly you must persevere. If you follow a proper procedure, such as the three steps documented above, and take account of any disability issues it will be hard for an employee to bring or succeed in a claim against you.

Rayner Jones is a partner at UK law firm Lester Aldridge