Managing Sickness Absence

Employee sickness can put pressure on the ability to provide a continuing service to customers. All employers should make sure each instance is dealt with fairly and consistently. To that end we are supplying below a check list of issues to consider, not all will be relevant to every case, but it should prove a useful starting point.


  • Check (and comply with) any relevant sickness or absence procedures and employment contract provisions.
  • Keep confidential records of medical certificates, correspondence, telephone calls and meetings.


  • Investigate nature, extent, and likely duration of illness. Ask employee for information and obtain a medical report if appropriate. If absence is stress-related, refer employee to any stress policy or counselling services on offer.
  •  If absences are short-term and intermittent, investigate whether there is any underlying cause (medical or otherwise). If necessary, follow capability or disciplinary procedure, offering practical guidance and assistance, setting timescales for improvement, and giving warnings where appropriate.
  • Keep in contact with employee throughout procedure, especially in relation to medical evidence received prior to making adjustments, identifying an alternative position, or taking a decision to dismiss.

Disability and reasonable adjustments

  • Consider whether employee is disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, relying on medical evidence as required.
  • Consider whether any adjustments (for example to employee’s duties, workplace or working conditions) would facilitate their return to work (or their taking less time off if absence is intermittent).
  • Consider whether these adjustments are reasonable in the circumstances.

Reviewing the alternatives

  • Before taking a decision to dismiss, consider surrounding circumstances, age, and length of service of employee together with action taken in respect of similar circumstances in the past.
  • Consider importance of employee and/or the post occupied to the business, the impact their continued absence is having on the business, and the difficulty and cost of continuing to deal with their absence, before contemplating dismissal.
  • Consider whether employee could take up alternative employment or whether there are any other options that would avoid the need for dismissal.
  • If employee has been absent long-term and is unlikely to return in the foreseeable future, consider claiming under terms of any PHI policy or ill health retirement (and seeking additional medical evidence for such a claim if required).
  • Review medical evidence to ensure it is up to date. Identify correct potentially fair reason for dismissal – capability, conduct or some other substantial reason?

Contemplating dismissal

  • Once dismissal is contemplated, write to employee to invite them to a meeting. Give enough information about the circumstances you are taking into account, (see above) and the possible outcomes, to enable the employee to participate meaningfully.
  • Hold meeting with employee and give them the opportunity to present their case against dismissal.
  • Confirm any subsequent decision to employee in writing.
  • On dismissal, ensure employee’s contractual and statutory entitlements are met and that they receive correct pay entitlement including holiday pay under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1988/1833).
  • In the dismissal letter identify reason for dismissal, effective date of dismissal and
  • offer employee the right of appeal from the dismissal decision.
  • Hold an appeal meeting if requested by employee and confirm decision to employee in writing.
Amanda Finn can be contacted at