In the past few months we have been asked by 6 separate clients (different industries and locations) to help them deal with sickness absence.

Before that, we hadn’t had to do any GP reports for almost a year. What is going on out there??!!
The situation could be long-term sickness absences (are they ever coming back?), newly-diagnosed illnesses (what reasonable adjustments do we need to make), or many intermittent days off (are they just taking the mickey?).

One of them was for a cancer sufferer who was due back to work. They came in for a chat about a phased return over 3 months. After thinking about it, they decided they only wanted to work 2 days a week (previously they were working full time) and no more than that “forever”. As they qualified under the disability discrimination rules, we then requested a GP’s report and an
Occupational Health report on this employee to see what medical reasonable adjustments we would have to do (as opposed to them wanting us to do). Once the employee realised that we weren’t going to agree to anything without medical justification for their demand (which there wasn’t), they agreed to the phased return after all, and are back at work next week.

In most cases of illness and sickness absence we can request a GP’s report for more details. The employee has to give their consent, but it looks very suspicious if they won’t. Good point to remember with this is that it can take up to 6 weeks to get the report, and then it may not give much useful information: one we had used 2 pages of A4 to say, effectively, that the GP had no idea what was wrong with him and that we should talk to his consultant. So then we had to start the process over again!!

Another good tool is to use Occupational Health. These are medical professionals who will do a telephone conversation or a face to face visit with the person in question to work out if they are able to do their job and what reasonable adjustments should/could be made. One report came back that the employee who was off on long-term sick had said several times that they couldn’t face coming back (which they had never said to my client), so that gave us an opportunity for holding a “without prejudice” conversation and the employee leaving with a comfortable settlement.

So although you can’t sack them if they are “sick too much”, we do have tools to make an informed decision on their future in your company and stop any messing around on their part!

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