Managing the allocation of work can be a challenging task at the best of times. When there is the added complication of ill health absence, through illness or injury, long term or intermittent, employers need to understand the correct procedures to manage these circumstances effectively and in accordance with the law. Unfair dismissal law prohibits employers from simply dismissing employees for poor attendance and requires employers to act fairly and reasonably and follow a fair procedure.
Persistent short-term ill health absences can be extremely disruptive to the workplace. Although there is no legal definition of short-term absence, a reasonable approach would be to consider short-term absence as lasting from 1 day to 27 days. if there are no acceptable reasons for absence or the absences are not related to an underlying health condition then the employer may wish to treat the matter as a conduct issue. Where the employee is intermittently off sick due to a disability you are advised to follow the long-term sickness absence process because you must avoid discrimination and have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disability related absence.
Once an employee's sickness has lasted 28 calendar days, you are advised to refer to our guidance on long term sickness. Where absence is due to medically certificated illness, the issue becomes one of capability rather than conduct. Employers need to take a more sympathetic and considerate approach, particularly if the employee is disabled and where reasonable adjustments at the workplace might enable them to return to work. Employers should be aware of the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 when making any decisions that affect someone who may be disabled as defined by the Act. (For further information see the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.)