Ask Kate: my employee had an accident and can’t work for weeks. Help!

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Whenever a staff issue comes up, Peninsula advisers are on hand to help. There’s no query too big, too small, or too bizarre for our experts to unpack.

So, if you’re sitting on a query, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s what keeps our Peninsula clients safe and successful all year round and gives them the peace of mind to focus on their business.

This caller’s employee couldn’t go to work after a skiing accident. So, they asked Kate Palmer, Peninsula’s HR Advice and Consultancy Director, for expert advice.

Here’s what they had to say…

Hi Kate,

I operate a factory that manufactures home furnishings. Recently, one of my employees was involved in a skiing accident and they suffered some pretty nasty injuries. They’ve been off work for five days currently – but their recovery could take weeks. So, I’m not sure exactly when they’re coming back and what I need to do in the meantime.

My other staff are having to pick up the work and I don’t want to keep that pressure on them when there’s no end date in sight. Help!

- Anon

Kate’s reply was…

Hi Anon,

I’m so sorry to hear of your employee’s accident – my best wishes go out to them, and I really hope they make a speedy recovery.

“Recently, one of my employees was involved in a skiing accident and they suffered some pretty nasty injuries. They’ve been off work for five days currently – but their recovery could take weeks”

This is an awful scenario for any employee and employer to be in. And if you expect your employee to be off work for a few weeks while they recover, you’ll need to treat this as a long-term sickness issue.

It goes without saying but if your employee has been off work for five days, you should have already started paying them either the statutory or your own enhanced sick pay (as sick pay starts from the fourth day of absence).

And, once your employee is off work for more than seven calendar days, they’ll also need to give you a fit note from a medical professional. Your employee’s fit note will tell you whether they aren’t or may be ‘fit for work’. It may also give you advice on how you can support their return when they’re able to work again.

“I’m not sure exactly when they’re coming back and what I need to do in the meantime”

While your employee’s off, you should keep in regular contact with them.

You don’t have to speak every day but checking in will keep you up to date on your employee’s condition and help you manage cover for them. When you do get in touch though, it’s good to ask your employee how they would prefer to stay connected - whether that’s through phone calls or emails.

You should also agree on how often you’ll be in contact and make sure you keep a record of everything you discuss.

If you think it would help, you could also try to find out your employee’s medical information from their GP. This might give you a better idea of how long they could be off work and a professional opinion on the specific steps you can take to support them.

You would need your employee’s consent to do this though.

And if your employee continues to stay off work after they’re due back because of further complications and they obtain another fit note, then you may want to set up a welfare meeting.

Because dealing with long-term sickness can be so complex and tricky, having a sickness and absence policy is key. A policy not only tells you what to do step by step, but it also helps you stay consistent with every case you handle. Plus, you have written evidence of following an official procedure.

This will help protect you from legal risk if, let’s say you have to consider a capability procedure (which hopefully you shouldn’t).

So, if you don’t already have one in place – make sure you get a policy set up.

“My other staff are having to pick up the work and I don’t want to keep that pressure on them when there’s no end date in sight”

It’s a good idea to closely monitor how your employee’s absence is affecting your business and whether it’s placing a strain on your finances or staff. Make a note of this.

Keep checking in with your employee. It might be that you need to consider phasing their return to work. You could allow them to work reduced hours or take on other responsibilities that are less physically demanding for a while.

You should also agree on what support your employee may need in the first few weeks or months after they return to work. But while it’s good to have a proactive approach, be mindful not to put too much pressure on them to come back before they’re ready.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about how to support your employee or any concerns about the effects of long-term absence on your business, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. Our advisers would be happy to help.

All the best,

Kate.

P.S. Got a HR query or staff problem? Click below to get a free advice call today.

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