How can your fairly dismiss an employee that is frequently off sick?

15 Oct How can your fairly dismiss an employee that is frequently off sick?

Handling employee sickness absence is an inevitable part of being an employer, but when these absences become overly frequent, they can have a negative impact on other employees, as well as the performance of your business. Your frustration may be further exacerbated if you suspect these sicknesses might not be genuine. Here we reveal what actions you should take if you are experiencing over-frequent absences in your business.

Review your sickness absence policy

Your first step should be to review your sickness absence policy, making sure that it clearly communicates to your employees what is expected of them and what actions will be taken as part of the disciplinary process if these expectations aren’t met. Not only will these guidelines reassure genuinely ill employees that they are being taken care of, they can also serve to deter those who might be prone to pulling one too many ‘sickies’. Always make sure that your sickness absence policy includes ‘trigger points’ – benchmarks that inform both employer and employee at what points absence levels can be deemed excessive.

Conduct ‘return to work’ interviews

Where employees have been absent, you may find it helpful to conduct ‘return to work’ interviews. Not only will these allow you to discover the reasons behind their absences, they also provide an opportunity for subtly informing employees that their absences do not go unnoticed and that disciplinary action may be carried out if they are found not to be genuine. It also gives the chance for you and your employee to consider the reasons behind their absence – if they are linked to an underlying condition or work-related illness, and if changes can be made to reduce future occurrences.

Introduce a monitoring system

You may also wish to introduce a monitoring system that allows you to record employee absences and potentially uncover patterns that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. You may find, for example, that one employee is always absent on a certain date or that another has a habit of always being off sick on Fridays and Mondays.

It may also be helpful for you, as an employer, to look for correlations between certain reasons for absence and the types of staff that frequently cite these reasons. You may notice that a select group of employees frequently reports back pain, for example, or be inspired to reevaluate the workload that you place upon employees that frequently report stress-related illnesses.

What to do if formal action is required

Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to take formal action. The employee may have reached one of your predetermined trigger points or perhaps you have reason to believe their absence was not genuine. Be careful not to act too quickly, however! Without clear evidence for your allegations, the employee may suggest a breach of trust and confidence or claim constructive dismissal.

If you decide formal action is required, the first step is to invite the employee to a meeting at which you will discuss their attendance. The employee has the right to be accompanied to this meeting by a colleague or trade union representative. The employee will then be allowed to explain the reasons for their absence, and their attendance record and any medical evidence should be reviewed alongside your sickness absence policy. If appropriate, you may decide to issue a warning to your employee, clearing outlining what you expect from them, moving forward, as well as the consequences should they not adhere to these expectations. It is highly advised that you seek employment law advice at this point – doing so will allow matters to be resolved quickly and legal pitfalls to be avoided!

A subsequent meeting, held anywhere between 1 and 12 months later, will allow you to review the employee’s attendance. If not improved as required, you may decide to issue a final warning giving the employee a last chance to improve their attendance and meet your expectations within a designated timeframe.

Unfortunately, employees sometimes fail to meet these expectations and dismissal becomes the most sensible option. At this point it’s crucial that you remain mindful of what an Employment Tribunal will contemplate when assessing if the dismissal was properly carried out. They will, amongst other things, consider: if the reason for dismissal was fair; if you, as the employer acted reasonably; and if procedure was followed correctly and fairly. If you decide to go ahead with the dismissal, a meeting should be held at which the employee, who may be accompanied, is given dismissal with notice.

There are several thorny legal issues that you must avoid when dismissing an employee who is too frequently absent. If you require assistance at any point of the process, please don’t hesitate to contact BRIDGE Employment Law today.