First published: January 14th 2022
Last updated: March 31st 2023
Long-term sickness absence: When to conduct an informal welfare meeting
Short-term sickness absence is something all employers will have to deal with from time to time.
Long-term sickness absence tends to be a more challenging scenario.
When does a sickness absence become a long-term sickness absence?
This is something for you to decide and to confirm in your absence through illness policy.
As a general rule of thumb, short term absences last 4 weeks or less, while an absence of more than 4 weeks would qualify as a long-term absence.
Impact of long-term sickness absence on business operations
Having an employee out of work with no set return date can impact the daily operations of the business and may require alternative arrangements to be made.
This can result in reduced efficiency, productivity issues and problems with employee morale if your employees who are turning up for work begin to resent picking up the slack.
The informal welfare meeting
You should have a strong absence management policy in place.
One of the key steps in managing a long-term absence is the ‘informal welfare meeting’. This initial welfare meeting should take place approximately four weeks after the employee has been absent.
It’s good practice to hold this meeting earlier, at around two weeks, if there is a work-related reason for the employee’s absence.
An informal welfare meeting is a practical way to ensure that you stay in contact with the employee as well as an opportunity to clarify the nature of the employee’s incapacity, and confirm how long they’re likely to be absent from work.
Issues to discuss at the informal welfare meeting
You can discuss the following issues at the informal welfare meeting:
- The nature of the employee’s incapacity.
- What treatment has been recommended by their medical professional.
- If the medical professional has recommended any accommodations for you to consider when facilitating their return to work.
- What the employee’s feelings are about returning to work.
- When they feel they will be able to return to work.
Where to hold the informal welfare meeting
This meeting should be held in a private place or by a private mode of communication.
Employees who are absent from work due to illness are likely to want privacy. By conducting the welfare meeting in private, you’ll be demonstrating your consideration for their situation and protecting their right to privacy.
Enquire about a potential return to work
You can use the meeting as a forum to discuss supports that could facilitate a return to work. Reassure the employee that they’re missed at work and let them know that you’ll consider any reasonable requirements that may facilitate their return to work.
After the informal welfare meeting
You can wrap this meeting up by scheduling another follow up if there is no prospect of a return to work in the near future.
Depending on the details discussed in the meeting, you may need to consider the next steps like whether you will need to access medical records or ask the employee to attend a company doctor.
On the other hand, if the employee is optimistic about a return to work, the informal welfare meeting can help facilitate a speedy and successful return to work.
Find out more about how to manage long-term sickness absence
Call us today on 01 886 0350 to speak with a HR expert about managing long-term absences or request a callback here.