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Sickness Absence Dismissals: What Every Employer Should Know

Sickness Absence in the UK:  The Current Situation

With UK workers taking an average of 9 days off work each year, the UK sickness absence rate is one of the highest in the world, and is costing UK businesses a whopping £29 billion per year. 

The Public Sector has the highest sickness absence rate, with the Retail and Leisure sector coming a close second followed by the Engineering and Manufacturing, Communications and Media, Services, Insurance, Banking, Utilities, Pharmaceuticals, Chemicals, other Finance and Technology sectors.

Minor illnesses are the most common cause for short term sickness absence, the majority being due to back, neck and muscle pain and stress, whereas the most common causes of long term absence are acute medical conditions, musculoskeletal injuries, stress and mental ill health.

The Impact of Sickness Absence and How to Address It

The impact of staff absence is not strictly financial.  High levels of staff absence adversely impacts business productivity, staff morale, and a company’s ability to deliver service standards.  Measuring staff absence, keeping good records, and having good attendance and absence policies will undoubtedly help employers to manage staff absence effectively.

However, even when good attendance and absence policies are in place, are being used consistently, absence issues may still exist, and where it looks as if the employee will not be able to return to work, or the prognosis is such that it cannot be said when (if at all) the employee might be fit, the Employer will need to consider the situation carefully.

There may be options to explore other than the obvious route of dismissal on capability grounds, and it is important to consider these options both from the point of view of unfair dismissal law and also because there may be contractual entitlements which arise and failure to explore them may give rise to claims for breach of contract.

Sickness Absence Dismissal

Where an Employer has reached the point where dismissal for ill-health is contemplated, it will usually have held at least two previous meetings with the employee. Employers should satisfy themselves that the reason for dismissal is ill-health and that they have adopted a fair procedure.

  • The first thing they should do is write to the employee to invite them to a meeting. In doing so they should give enough information about the circumstances they are considering and the possible outcomes, to enable the employee to participate meaningfully.
  • They should then hold the meeting with the employee in order to give them the opportunity to present their case against dismissal.
  • Any subsequent decision should then be notified to the employee in writing.
  • If an Employer decides to dismiss the employee, they must ensure they meet the employee’s contractual and statutory entitlements, and that the receive their correct pay entitlement, including holiday pay under the Working Time Regulations 1998. 
  •  In the dismissal letter they should identify the reason for dismissal, effective date of dismissal and offer the employee the right of appeal from the dismissal decision.
  • If requested by the employee, they should hold an appeal meeting and confirm their final decision to the employee in writing.

 Decisions to dismiss an employee should never be taken lightly, and seeking specialist employment law advice, especially when it comes to a capability dismissal, is highly recommended to ensure you do things properly and are fully compliant with your contractual and statutory obligations.

The cost of getting things wrong far outweighs the cost of doing things right!  If you have a staff absence issue and would like some advice, give us a call today on 0800 611 9785 or Contact Us through our website to arrange a FREE 1 hour consultation.


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