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What classes’ as long term absence?

There are two stages to managing an employee’s long-term sickness absence. The first is to manage the employee’s absence from work and the second to manage their return to work.

The management of an employee’s absence should be carried out proactively with the prime aims being to support the employee and facilitate their return to work as soon as possible.
The starting point will be for you to have a supportive conversation with the employee as soon as it is known that their absence is likely to be long term. The aim of this conversation will be to identify how the company can support the employee and take care of their inevitable employment concerns.

As soon as it becomes clear that an employee’s absence will be long term, you should refer the employee to a medical practitioner for an assessment of the effects of their condition, the likely duration of the illness or condition and whether or not there are any steps that you could take to facilitate the employee’s return to work.

On receipt of the report you should consider it carefully with a view to identifying what specific further actions you should instigate. In the first instance, you must decide whom to instruct to provide the medical report. This may be from:
• the employee’s own doctor or consultant, which may be appropriate where the employee is suffering from a serious medical condition; or
• an internal/external occupational health adviser, who is likely to be more objective and better placed to advise on potential reasonable adjustments specific to the working environment.

If you obtain the report directly from the employee’s own doctor or consultant, the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 applies. The Act does not apply if a doctor or occupational health practitioner who has not previously been responsible for the clinical care of the employee is instructed to prepare the report.

However from April 2017 occupational doctors preparing reports for employment purposes are required to obtain the employee’s consent before passing any report to the employer. The doctor is also required to be satisfied that the employee is fully informed of the purposes and likely results of disclosing the report to the employer, and should offer to show the employee the report before passing it to the employer. This means that employees may be able to refuse to consent to the disclosure of an occupational doctor’s report to the
employer.

Avoiding disability discrimination

An employee who is off sick for a lengthy period of time may be disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. If this is the case the employee will be entitled to protection against discriminatory treatment and to expect the employer to make reasonable adjustments.
The Act contains a very broad definition of disability, which includes both physical and mental impairments that last, or are expected to last, 12 months or more and are substantial in terms of their effects on the person’s day-to-day life.

A wide range of physical and mental conditions and illnesses may amount to disabilities, depending always on whether or not the effect of the condition on the person is substantial and long term.
An important point to note is that a condition may amount to a disability even if, as a result of medication or another form of support, the person experiences no adverse effects on a day-to-day basis. The question that determines whether or not an employee is disabled is how the condition would affect the employee if they did not take the medication or use the support.

 

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