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These FAQs set out the common questions and pitfalls faced by employers when managing sickness absence. The additional documents referred to are designed to assist you further. Please note that some documents are available to all readers whilst others are locked and only accessible to HR Protect clients. To become a retainer client or to find out further information please click here.

Can I contact my employee whilst they are off sick?

Yes. It is a common misconception that you cannot contact your employee whilst they are off sick, however employers should stay in contact with their staff to check on their well-being and to see if there is anything they can do to support them and facilitate a return to work.

Should the sickness absence continue then an employer will need to be in touch to manage the absence through the Sickness Absence Management policy, which may also include getting in touch to organise occupational health appointments with the employee. See:

S10a: Letter of invitation to Keeping in Touch meeting

S22: Sickness Absence Policy and Procedure

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S10a – Letter of invitation to Keeping in Touch meeting

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S22 – Sickness Absence Policy and Procedure

What happens if my absent employee refuses to meet with me or speak to me because they say they are unwell?

In this situation, if it is crucial that you speak with your employee (e.g. to progress an investigation)  it might be advisable to obtain medical advice from either their GP or Occupational Health for them to comment on the individual’s fitness to attend such a meeting. You should ask whether the employee is well enough to engage in a conversation or meeting with you and if there is anything you can do to facilitate that discussion with the employee. It is going to be very difficult to progress the absence management procedure in the absence of engagement from the employee and seeking expert opinion on their ability to attend is often the best approach.

Should I meet with the employee on their return to work from sickness absence?

Yes. It is always good practice to arrange a return to work meeting with someone who has been off sick: whether that is a short term or long term sickness absence. That meeting gives you the opportunity to make sure that they are fit to return to work; whether they may need a phased return to work; whether they need any support or any adjustments making to help their ability to work and sustain attendance at work. It is also a good opportunity to find out if there are any underlying issues which you need to be aware of linked to their absence. See:

S6: Return to work interview form

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S6 – Return to Work Interview Form

Can an employee return to work before the expiry of their fit note?

An employer may allow someone to return to work whilst they still have a live fit note- there is no longer a mechanism by which a GP can sign someone back on as such. However, if your employee asks to return to work in those circumstances, you need to understand why. An employer has a duty to protect their employee’s health and safety and it is likely to be appropriate to seek further medical advice and/or carry out a risk assessment before allowing someone to return prior to the expiration of their fit note. It the employee refuses to agree to this then the employer is under no obligation to allow them to return until their fit note expires.

Can I dismiss someone who has a disability?

Yes BUT only if you have a genuine reason to do so and that reason is not because of their disability or because of something arising out of their disability and you have complied with your duty to make reasonable adjustments.

For example, you cannot dismiss someone who is unable to do their job because of their disability without having first investigated whether any reasonable adjustments could be made to enable them to do their job.

We recommend taking specialist advice in those circumstances as dismissals involving disabled employees may carry a high degree of risk.

I have an employee who has been off sick for over a year. What can I do?

Consult your Managing Sickness Absence policy in the first instance. This should give you guidance. If you do not have a policy or if the policy is not clear, the first step you will need to take is to investigate the reason why the employee is off work; how long they are likely to continue to be off work; whether they are any steps that can be taken to enable the employee to return to work; will the employee be able to return to work after medical intervention; what is the impact on the business and the other staff of the employee’s continuing absence?

Once you have investigated these issues which must include speaking to the employee in question and is likely to involve seeking a medical advice, you can then consider the options. This may include taking steps to support the employees return to work, setting timescales for review or possibly dismissal if there is no evidence that the employee will be able to return to work in the near future. The individual should be encouraged to participate in this process as much as possible.

Prior to dismissing an individual for long term sickness absence you should invite them to a formal meeting, warning that the outcome may be the termination of their employment. The usual rules on the employee having notice of any meeting, being able to consider all the evidence and being represented apply.

We have a range of letters to support you in this situation, please see:

S3: Letter requesting employee consent to medical report

S4: Medical consent form

S5: Letter to GP/Consultant requesting medical report

S7: Invitation to meeting to discuss medical report

S11: Invitation to long term sickness absence meeting(s)

S12: Invitation to final long term sickness absence meeting

S23: Guidance note: conducting long term sickness absence meeting(s)

S24: Guidance note: conducting final long term sickness absence meeting (potential dismissal)

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S3 – Letter Requesting Employee Consent to Medical Report

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S4 – Medical Consent Form

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S4 – Medical Consent Form

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S5 – Letter to Doctor Requesting Medical Report

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S7 – Invitation to Meeting to Discuss Medical Report

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S11 – Invitation to Long Term Sickness Absence Meeting(s)

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S12 – Invitation to Final Long Term Sickness Absence Meeting

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S23 – Conducting Long Term Sickness Absence Meeting(s)

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S24 – Conducting Final Long Term Sickness Absence Meeting (Potential Dismissal)

Should we ignore disability related absences?

Where an individual has high levels of short term sickness absence caused by a disability then employers will need to take the reason for their absence into account. You do not have to ignore disability related sickness absences altogether when managing someone’s sickness absence, however you do need to consider reasonable adjustments in allowing more absences prior to taking formal action than you would for an employee who is not disabled. Each case is different so we would recommend taking legal advice.

My employee is off sick but one of their colleagues has seen on social media that they have posted pictures of themselves at a party. It's made me question whether they are genuinely off sick. What can I do?

First, do not jump to a conclusion that being at a party means that their illness is not genuine. A person’s illness may not affect them at all times. Sometimes attending social events can be part of a person’s recovery. Of course this depends on the what the illness is.

Before dismissing someone’s illness as not being genuine, we would suggest making enquiries of the individual concerned and seeking advice from a medical expert if you are not convinced by the response.

How long should someone be off sick before I can dismiss them?

There is no right or wrong answer to this.

If you have a policy in place, this should give you guidance on the process you have to follow before dismissing someone for their sickness absence. For short term absences the employer would usually be expected to issue a series of warnings before getting to the dismissal stage. The length of time absence can be sustained very much depends on the reason for their absence, the likelihood that they will be able to return to work and the impact on the business of their absence. See:

S1: How to Guide: managing sickness absence

S2: Flowchart

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S1 – How to Guide – Managing Sickness Absence

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S2 - Flowchart of sickness absence process

Updated on 01.05.2021

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Can I dismiss someone who has a lot of short term sickness absence?

Yes. You will need to investigate why that person is taking a lot of short term sickness absence to make sure that there is no underlying problem you need to be aware of. You will need to evidence what the impact of their absence has had on your business.

You will also be expected to have given the employee warnings that if their attendance does not improve, it could result in their dismissal. See:

S13: Invitation to short term sickness absence meeting (Stage 1)

S14: Invitation to short term sickness absence meeting (Stage 2)

S15: Invitation to short term sickness absence meeting (Stage 3)

S25: Guidance note: conducting short term sickness absence meetings

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S13 – Invitation to Short Term Sickness Absence Meeting (Stage 1)

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S14 – Invitation to Short Term Sickness Absence Meeting (Stage 2)

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S15 – Invitation to Short Term Sickness Absence Meeting (Stage 3)

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S25 – Conducting Short Term Sickness Absence Meetings

Can someone take holiday whilst they are off sick?

Yes they can. It may also help with their recovery. The employee will still need to obtain your approval to take holiday.

Are there any other documents that can help me?

Yes, please see below for further documents to help you with the process:

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S8 – Letter informing employee of reduction/cessation of contractual sick pay

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S9 – Letter informing employee of cessation of SSP

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S10 – Letter regarding expired fit note

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S16 – Invitation to appeal meeting

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S17 – Termination of employment (long term sickness absence)

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S18 – Written warning for short term sickness absence (Stage 1)

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S19 – Final written warning for short term sickness absence (Stage 2)

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S20 – Termination of employment for short term sickness absence (Stage 3)

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S21 – Appeal outcome letter

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S26 – Appeal meeting guidance

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