First published: April 11th 2023
Last updated: April 11th 2023
When one of your team is absent through illness, it’s important to know how to manage this difficult scenario.
Short-term absences tend to cause less disruption but if an employee is absent for an extended spell of more than a few weeks, employers need to take proactive steps to handle the situation.
Here we take a look at the two key steps that should feature in your absent management policies and procedures.
The welfare meeting – an offer of support
It’s inevitable that some of your employees will fall sick ill or suffer an injury from time to time. If an illness or injury is serious or turns into a long-term condition resulting in an absence of more than a few weeks, you need to start making some plans to address the situation. In this scenario, the first step is to catch up with the employee and to offer your support at a welfare meeting.
When to schedule a welfare meeting
An initial welfare meeting should generally take place after around four weeks of employee absence. If the employee is off due to a work-related illness or injury, you may wish to bring this meeting forward to avoid a perception that you are ignoring the issue.
Practicalities of a welfare meeting
It’s best practice to give the employee plenty of advance notice of the meeting. Depending on the nature of the illness, the employee may need to make specific arrangements to attend or want to be accompanied.
It’s also important to hold the meeting in a place that respects the employee’s privacy. It is likely that the employee will want to keep the nature of their illness or injury private.
Purpose of the welfare meeting
Your main goal for the welfare meeting is to let the employee know that they have your support and that you will do your best to facilitate a successful return to work. You should take care not to put pressure on the employee to come back to work.
Instead focus on any workplace health supports that are available and keep the meeting relatively informal.
How to conclude the welfare meeting
If there are no details about when the employee’s recovery might be complete, try to agree the details of when a second follow up meeting should take place. If the employee is amenable, keep in regular contact and offer support where appropriate.
When to hold a capability meeting
A capability meeting is necessary when the absence becomes more long-term. If the employee’s absence stretches into 3 or 4 months, you need to take further action and consider if there is any likelihood of a return to work.
Arrange a medical assessment
Before the capability meeting, contact the employee about arranging an appointment with your company doctor or occupational physician. At this point, it’s important to establish the facts around the employee’s capacity to continue doing their job.
Before you officially schedule a formal capability meeting, you should let the employee know that their employment is under review due to their long-term absence and their capacity to resume their duties will be considered.
Arrange a meeting to discuss the report
Once the report is ready, invite the employee to a meeting to discuss the doctor’s recommendations. You may need to arrange a follow up meeting if the doctor’s report deems it too early to make a definitive recommendation.
Once you have concluded your discussion of the medical evidence, you should send a follow up letter confirming that the employee is:
– Fit to Return
If the employee is certified by the doctor to return to work, you should let the employee know the date on which a return-to-work meeting will take place.
– Fit To Return With Conditions
If the employee is fit to return but it’s necessary to adjust their duties, confirm how you will propose to facilitate the employee’s return to work.
You should also conduct a risk assessment and consider your duties under employment equality legislation which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
– Not Fit to Return to Work
You are not required to employ someone who is not capable of doing their job. You should carefully consider your obligations under employment equality law however before confirming any dismissal based on capability.
It’s very important to carefully consider the facts of each case. Long-term absences by their nature vary and must be treated on a case by case basis.
There is no set timeline to follow in medical capability situations but it’s a good idea to keep in regular contact with employees who are absent through illness.
Expert HR advice for long-term absences
Long-term absences can be difficult to manage. Contact us today for expert advice on welfare meetings or any HR issues affecting your organisation.
Call (01) 866 0350 or request a callback here.