Long-Term Absence Management

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 14 May 2018
Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite
Issues covered:

Absenteeism is a substantial cost for every business in Ireland. In tackling absenteeism, there are a number of steps you can take.

Since the introduction of the new Workplace Relations Act 2015 employees now accrue annual leave on certified sick leave from the 1 August 2015 and this is now a cost for the employer. For this reason, employers have been trying to rather than leave it to continue as before.

Absence and Sick Leave Policy

Firstly, you must have a clear and comprehensive absence and sick leave policy. The absence and sick leave policy should cover a number of key areas namely:

  • notification procedures
  • certification procedures
  • sick leave payment
  • referral to company doctor procedures
  • return to work procedures

How to Manage Absence and Sick Leave

  • Constant Communication: The employee should be following the Company absence procedure in notification of their absence, submitting medical certificates on a regular basis and communicating with the Company on a regular basis in regards to their absence. If the basics are not being managed correctly it is important for you to write to the employee and ask for them to follow the Company Absence procedure.
  • Attend Company Meeting: Correspond with the employee asking them to attend a company meeting to discuss their absence. This meeting will allow the Company to get a face to face update from the employee and allow the company to ask for a potential return to work date. The meeting should be followed up in writing.  
  • Appointment with Occupational Doctor: The Company should instruct the employee to attend the Company appointed Doctor in line with Company policy to ascertain their fitness to return to work. This appointment is necessary in order to establish whether continued medical supervision or treatment will be necessary and it will notify the Company of what reasonable accommodations if any, it may have to make to ensure the employee is able to return to work. This appointment will most likely give an expected timeframe for the absence in each case.
  • Follow Up Meeting To Discuss Report: It is advised that the Company contact the employee and invite them to a meeting to discuss the recommendations within the doctor’s report. A follow-up letter would be sent to the employee summarising the meeting.
    • If appropriate, the Company would discuss the next steps of the risk assessment i.e. if the Employee was certified fit to return to work by the Occupational Practitioner.
    • Alternatively, the Company would be advising when the next company meeting was to take place in line with what the Occupational Doctor has recommended to review again.
  •  Fit to Return: If the Employee is certified fit and able to return to their normal duties then they can be scheduled to return. It is advisable to conduct a return to work meeting with the employee.
  • Fit To Return With Limited Capabilities: If the Employee is certified fit and able to return to work but with limited capabilities, a risk assessment must be conducted. It is advised that specific advice is obtained where there are limited capabilities outlined by the Company Doctor as there are a number of factors to take into consideration.  
  • Incapable Of Returning To Work: If the employee is incapable of coming back to work Section 16 (1) of the Employment Equality Act 1998  states that an employer is not obliged to retain an employee who is not fully capable of doing the job he/she is required to do. Case law requires a two-stage enquiry: The employer must first look at the factual position concerning the employee’s capacity - this will involve looking at the medical evidence. If it becomes apparent that the employee is not fully capable, the employer is required to consider what, if any, special treatment or facilities are required to allow the employee to carry out a role.  This is where the risk assessment applies. The cost of the special treatment or facilities must be considered in light of the size of the company. If the employee cannot give a return to work date and there is medical evidence to support that either the employees condition is worsening as a result of a severe medical condition the following test as requirements that the employer must comply with in order to have a fair dismissal: It was the ill-health which was the reason for his/her dismissal; That this was substantial reason. That the employee received fair notice that the question of his dismissal for incapacity was being considered; and that the employee was afforded the opportunity of being heard.


There is no set timeline for the above process. Employees should be kept in constant contact with throughout their absence.

It is important to note that the management of absences is different for each individual employee as illnesses/conditions differ for each individual and so specific advice should be obtained at all times. 

This article is correct at 14/05/2018

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite

The main content of this article was provided by Caroline Reidy. Contact telephone number is +353 66 710 2887 / +353 86 775 2064 or email info@thehrsuite.com

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