Unfortunately, there is sometimes no other option than the dismissal of an employee who is on long term sickness absence – of course after a thorough procedure has been followed. However, getting back to work is ultimately the goal of an employee on long term sickness absence and the employer has a significant role in the success of a return to work.
The introduction of the new Med 3 form – colloquially known as a ‘sick note’ and more recently referred to as a ‘Fit Note’ – also plays an integral role in getting people back to work after a long term sickness. This note is completed by the employee’s doctor after a discussion has taken place between the doctor and the employee, where the doctor has to get an idea of the work the employee does and the integral parts of it. The updated form allows the doctor to indicate that the employee is fit for work but then qualify that approval with certain criteria that will aid the return to work e.g. a phased return e.g. 2 days a week instead of 5, or with amended duties, which would mean the employee might only take up some of their original duties, but not others. An employer should consider the recommendations on the fit note seriously to see if they can be accommodated. Accommodating them would definitely signify an earlier return to work than if they couldn’t be accommodated because if they can’t, the fit note should be treated as if it had said the employee was not fit for work.
Whether the return is with amended duties/working times or not, the employee is likely to feel disjointed because it is likely that there has been some change to the workplace during their absence, whether that be different personnel, different premises or different structure. You should take the time to re-introduce the employee to the working environment, possibly by inviting them in for some time before they are due to start work so that they can meet their new team, for example, or familiarise themselves with their new route to work or way round the new premises. Giving the employee the opportunity to see how their working day will pan out without the pressure of the normal working day will ease the employee in and help them get used to things bit by bit. Being overfaced on the first day back may well hinder the success of the return.
Carrying out a return to work interview with the employee will give you the chance to discuss individually any other work related changes the employee needs to know about, and also allow a two way discussion about any further needs and requirements in relation to the return to work in addition to discussions had prior to the return.
The Equality Act 2010 also requires that you consider any reasonable adjustments needed to enable to the employee to do their job if their sickness absence is because of a disability.
A combination of the above points should help pave the way for an uncomplicated and successful return to work after long term sickness absence.
For more information on absenteeism please contact Peninsula’s Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.