How to Manage Long Term Sickness Absence at Work

Navigating long term sickness absence can be difficult for business owners. Prolonged absences can deplete resources and place extra burden on your business and other staff. And that’s before you consider your additional duties in providing care for staff members who need your support.


What is long term sickness?

There is no specific period of sickness that would be defined as ‘long term’ sickness, but sometimes people reference four weeks or more. It’s the difference between a short-term illness like a cold and something that is a more persistent condition that will last over a longer period, which could be a mental health or physical condition.


Long term sickness and compliance with legislation

Often someone with a long-term health condition could be suffering from a disability. A ‘disability’ is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as a condition that has lasted or is likely to last at least 12 months and has a significant impact on the employee’s day-to-day activities.

If the employee thinks they are being treated badly because of their disability, this could lead to disability discrimination claims. It’s also important that employers are making any reasonable adjustments needed to any work ‘provision, criterion or practice’ which puts the disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage. For example, this could be making adjustments to the employee’s work environment, working hours or to help them attend welfare meetings.


How long can an employee be on long term sickness leave?

The key factor is whether or not the employee is well enough to attend work – for example, as an employer you’ll want to make sure that appropriate Fit Notes are provided confirming that the employee is not fit to attend work and you may want to explore obtaining further medical information such as an occupational health report. Some cases may reach a point where you’re no longer able to continue with the employee on sick leave. Such a situation would need careful legal/HR advice, which would include considering the following:

  • what is their condition
  • how easy it is to cover the employee’s absence
  • how long they have been off
  • how long they are expected to be off for into the future
  • what treatment they are receiving and is there any imminent treatment that could be helpful, e.g. an operation;
  • whether their sick pay has expired
  • whether any adjustments could be made that would help them return to work.


How should I manage long term sickness?

It’s important to stay in contact with an employee on long term sickness absence. So that they still feel connected to the business and informed of what’s happening, which will help in their return to work once they are fit. Welfare meetings can also help the employer understand the employee’s condition and if there is anything that can be done to help them return to work. This will often include getting a medical report/occupational health assessment.

However, it’s a delicate balance as equally, an employer must not make someone on long term sick feel pressured to return or require unnecessary meetings, especially as these may be difficult for the employee to attend.

Here are some more ways to help manage long term sickness absence:

  • Create a long term sickness policy
  • Keep absence records up-to-date
  • Hold meetings with the employee
  • Make reasonable adjustments for their return to work

Long term sick pay – how much will it cost me?

Here are some things to consider when it comes to how much long term sick pay will cost you:

  • Current employment status – to receive SSP, they should be an ‘employee’ but the definition also includes certain apprentices and agency workers.
  • Current earnings – average earnings must not be below the lower weekly earnings limit for National Insurance purposes – currently £123/week.
  • Absence policy/contractual rights – these could include eligibility for company sick pay.
  • Must not receive any additional pay from maternity leave, paternity leave or adoption pay. i.e. they need to be classed as on sick leave, not a different type of leave.
  • Statutory sick pay is for a maximum of 28 weeks for one continuous or linked period of sickness.


Things to avoid when managing long term sickness leave

There are many things to avoid when managing long term sickness leave, such as:

  • Reaching a decision too quickly and leaving yourself liable to unfair dismissal or discrimination claims
  • Failing to follow your long term sickness policy
  • Not carrying out return to work interviews
  • Continuously asking for a date of return


Manage long term sickness absence correctly with Citation

Dealing with long term sickness absence can be tough for both your employees and your business. That’s where Citation’s HR and Employment Law support comes in. Our team of HR consultants knows how tricky these situations can be and can guide you through it all. Check out our free long term sickness absence guide.

With Citation’s HR and Employment Law support, you’ll gain access to dedicated HR consultants who understand the complexities of managing such situations. Our comprehensive HR and Employment Law packages provide tailored guidance on handling long term sickness, helping you support your employees properly while avoiding any adverse effects on your business.

Contact us today to find out more about how Citation can support you in managing long term sickness absence with care and expertise.

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