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What you can and can't do when an employee has long-term sickness

Within the workplace long-term sickness generally applies when an employee is off sick from work for more than 4 weeks.


Causes

As per the CIPD’s 2021 Health and Wellbeing at Work report, the most common conditions responsible for long-term absence are:

  • Mental ill health (such as clinical depression and anxiety)

  • Musculoskeletal conditions (such as neck strain and repetitive strain injury, including back pain)

  • Stress

  • Acute medical conditions

UK Employment Law

UK employment law offers protection to employees whilst they are absent from work due to long-term sickness, and as they navigate a return to work.

It’s important for employers to have an awareness of the relevant legislation, which includes the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to prevent discrimination and ensure fair treatment of absent employees.


Duty of Care

It’s a common myth that an employer should not contact an employee whilst they are off sick, this is not the case.

Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This means maintaining a level of reasonable contact to check on the employees welfare whilst the employee is absent from work, perhaps discussing a potential return to work date, asking for a copy of their latest fit note or advising them whether they qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP).


Of course, what constitutes reasonable contact will differ from person to person, and an employee who is off sick due to work related stress is likely to prefer a different level of contact to someone who is absent due to a musculoskeletal condition.


Ideally an employer should set some boundaries with the employee over how frequently the employee would like contact to be made, along with who the contact will be, such as the employees line manager, and how e.g. via telephone. This should help to avoid any potential misunderstandings from both parties.


Sick Leave and Holiday

Whilst an employee is off sick from work, they are still entitled to accrue annual leave regardless of how long they’re off work sick for.

Employees must be allowed to carry over any unused statutory holiday entitlement which is not used due to sickness. Additionally if an employee is sick prior to or during their holiday, they can opt to take it as sick leave instead.

Employees are allowed to take paid holiday for their period of sickness absence, perhaps if they do not qualify for sick pay. However, employers cannot force employees to take annual leave when they’re eligible for sick leave.



📢If you need advice, contact one of our team on 01935411191 or email enquiries@rbhr.co.uk for a free initial consultation phone call. 📢


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