Thursday, 22 September 2022 12:00

Managing Long-Term Sickness

For a proportion of the UK workforce, the Covid pandemic was a catalyst to review their work-life balance resulting in them either significantly reducing their working hours or retiring altogether. This group have been dubbed the “lost workers” and have contributed to the labour shortage we are currently experiencing in the UK, thereby driving pay and benefits packages.

In addition to this group of absentees, the UK is also suffering from a high proportion of workers who are on long term sickness absence. As this group are effectively employed, they do not appear on unemployment statistics, however they are clearly not contributing towards productivity or GDP. They can be, however, a substantial drain on the resources of their employers.

Official ONS figures for sickness absence only cover up to 2021 when Covid played a major factor, but unofficial reports point to as many as a quarter of a million individuals absent on long term sickness.

Managing long term sickness absence takes a degree of effort to manage effectively made worse by the fact that each case had its own intricacies and anomalies. Because of this we often get called in to support with long-term sick cases but there are a few golden rules that apply across the board which most employers should be able to implement:

  • Four weeks is the usual threshold for long term sickness however this may vary depending on your own company’s policy so make sure you activate your long term sickness policy at the right time.

  • Don’t ignore the situation. The biggest problems we encounter are when no action has been taken for several months and the employer suddenly wants to do something about it.
  • Ascertain the medical condition from which the employee is suffering, the nature of investigations/treatment they have had to date, and the likely time scale in which they expect to return to work.
  • Regular communication is vital. We recommend every two to four weeks that the employee is off and seek to establish:
    • Is the employee recovering
    • Is there any more support they can be offered?
    • Are there company issues that he or she should be kept up to date with
    • What you are doing to manage in the workplace during his or her absence

  • Arranging a medical report from the employees GP should be part of your process if the absence looks likely to be extended. However GP’s can sometimes be reluctant to release medical details to people with no medical background. We recommend commissioning an Occupational Health Advisor (OHA) who will be able to interpret the results of a medical report and recommend any adjustments required in the workplace to assist the employee’s return to work.

  • Remember the employee’s rights under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 which must be explained to them, and you must get a Medical Report Consent form signed if you’re asking for details to be released.

  • The results of the medical report will determine how to proceed. Whether the employee will return to work and if a support plan needs to be put in place to assist this; or if the future of the employee remaining with the company needs to be considered. Each case should be assessed individually depending on the advice from the OHA

  • Regardless of the potential outcome arrange to discuss the results with the employee.

  • Dismissal based on incapability might be a consideration and it can also be an option that allows both you and the employee to move on. Following the correct procedure is paramount.

  • Very often, underpinning Long Term Sickness is the potential for disability and employers should ensure that every effort to consider reasonable adjustment should be taken. Disability Discrimination under the Equalities Act 2010 carries unlimited penalties so make sure you exhaust all possibilities before considering dismissal.

  • Get updated Medical Reports as required. Don’t base decisions on a report that is three months old.

  • As an employer you may have limits for accepting reasonable adjustments in the business, so only after all possible adjustments have been exhausted in line with ACAS best practices will dismissal be the only reasonable outcome. However, you must make sure the whole process has been managed properly; including the dismissal itself.

  • Multiple short periods of absence can be as damaging to a company as a single long-term period and sometimes more so. Consider employing the Bradford Factor scoring system to know when taking action is reasonable.

If you currently have issues with sickness absence, long-term or otherwise, we’re here to help. Call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 725 times Last modified on Thursday, 22 September 2022 12:24


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