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Having an employee off work on long-term sickness absence can be challenging, especially for small businesses with smaller teams requiring specialist skills and less-flexible finances.

Naturally, you will be concerned about your team member and their family, however, you also have a business to run. 

You need to remember that each case of long-term sickness leave is different and each approach to managing it needs to be done individually. This is a very delicate area to manage so it is important to do it right, otherwise, it could be very detrimental and costly to your business. 

In this article, we briefly set out your rights as an employer when managing an employee’s long-term sickness absence or critical illness.

Have a meeting with the employee as soon as possible

The first action to take if an employee presents you with a long-term sick note is to open the lines of communication even though they are absent from the workplace.

You must tread carefully when dealing with long-term sickness absences as employees have significant rights. You run the risk of the sick employee bringing a claim for unfair or constructive dismissal or, should they be diagnosed with a disability, discrimination


It is vital, however, to take early control of the situation. A long-term sick leave of one team member can cause stress on the rest of your employees who are faced with extra work and/or stalled projects.

As soon as you become aware that the employee’s sick leave and pay is going to be long-term, organise a formal meeting to discuss:

  • when the employee is likely to return to work
  • has or is it likely the employee will be diagnosed with a disability and what adjustments will need to be made so they can perform their duties?
  • if the employee wishes to explore alternatives such as working in another department or reducing their working hours
  • support for the employee to help them return to work, for example, counselling, rehabilitation, and time off for medical appointments

Remember that in a small team your employee will be well aware of the difficulties their absence is causing you and their colleagues. Dealing with the situation with sensitivity and compassion will benefit everyone and increase the chances of a positive outcome.

Can an employer dismiss an employee for long-term sickness?

You can dismiss an employee for being on long-term sick leave from work, but you should never do so without taking legal advice from an experienced Employment Law Solicitor. Employees have significant rights regarding long-term illness. It is likely you would have had at least two formal meetings with the employee before deciding to dismiss them. You will also need to have considered any adjustments required for the employee to return to work and provide reasons why these adjustments are not reasonable in the circumstances.

Summing up

Dealing with long-term illness absence from work is not straightforward and needs to be dealt with care. With the advice and support of an Employment Law Solicitor, the management of an employee’s long-term sickness absence does not need to be stressful. Provided you follow the correct processes and procedures, you have the right to protect the best interests of your business and employees during their period of absence.

Get legal assistance from LawBite

Long-term absence can be challenging for organisations, managers, colleagues and returning employees. Poorly managed absence can lead to issues such as staff attrition and employment tribunal claims for unfair dismissal or discrimination. LawBite experienced Employment Law Solicitors can help you ensure that long-term absence is managed effectively by providing you with the processes and procedures you need. 

Questions about what is classed as long term sick and how can it affect your business? Book a free 15-minute consultation with one of our Employment Lawyers today!

Additional useful information

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

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