While the law does not define what is classed as ‘long-term’ absence, as a general guide, four weeks or more could be considered to be long term.
It is estimated that around 131 million working days are lost each year to sickness absence in the UK.
One million employees each year experience one or more spells of long-term sickness absence and the estimated cost to employers is some £9 billion on sick pay and associated costs (*such as administrative and recruitment costs).
Moreover, employees on long-term sick will still accrue Holiday Pay.
But, can you terminate an employee if they are covered by a fit note?
The simple answer is ‘yes’.
There is a common misconception that employees contracts cannot be terminated if they are covered by a fit note; that is not the case.
An employer is entitled to terminate employment on the grounds of ill health capability.
Do they have a potential disability?
If an employee has a potential disability and their employment is terminated as a result of this, a successful Claim in the Employment Tribunal can cost a business potentially unlimited damages.
It is not surprising then that businesses are reluctant to address the issue of long-term sickness absence with staff members.
It is essential that you follow a full and fair process before terminating the employment of anyone who has been off work long term as the likelihood is that they may be classed as disabled.
It is clear therefore that employers need to stay on top when it comes to managing long-term sickness absence, as the cost and consequences to the business can be seriously detrimental.
Given the risk of a claim for disability discrimination, employers should also ensure that they take professional advice when dealing with an employee on long-term sickness.
- Follow a full and fair process before dismissing a long term absent employee;
- Keep on top when it comes to managing long-term sickness absence;
- Always take employment law advice before dismissing an employee.