Managing Long Term AbsencePosted in : HR Updates ROI on 24 July 2020
Absenteeism is a substantial cost for every business in Ireland. There are a number of processes the employer can take in order to address long term absence.
The introduction of the new Workplace Relations Act 2015 means employees now accrue annual leave and public holidays while on certified leave - this was introduced on 1 August 2015. This can be a large cost for employer. Prior to this act being introduced, many employers allowed employees continue with their absence without any intervention - now employers should manage absence to lower cost.
It is recommended that all employers have an absence policy and sick leave policy in place. The absence and sick leave policy should cover a number of key areas, which are as follows:
- Notification procedure
- Certification procedure
- Sick leave payment (if any)
- Referral to company doctor procedures
- Return to work procedures
The employee must adhere to the Company Absence procedure from the beginning of their absence. It is important that the employer manages the employee’s absence at the commencement of their absence and keeps communication open. If the employee is not adhering to the Absence and Sick Leave Policy, it is important that the employer writes to the employee and request that they follow these procedures in which they have agreed to. It is best practice that the employer would attach a copy of the Absence and Sick Leave Policy to the letter for the employee reference.
It is recommended that once a period of four weeks has passed and the employee has not returned to work that the employer would correspond to the employee inviting them to attend a company meeting to discuss their ongoing absence. This meeting can take place by call, zoom or face to face where social distancing can be adhered to. The aim of this meeting to get an update of the employees’ absence and for the employer to seek a potential return to work date. All meetings should be followed up in writing addressing what was discussed.
Depending on the employees’ reason for absence, the timeframe for sending an employee to the Occupational Doctor will differ. The employer should follow the Absence Policy and refer the employee to the appointed doctor to determine their fitness to return to work. The appointment is necessary in order to establish whether continued medical supervision or treatment will be required, and the follow up report will also notify the employer of any reasonable accommodations which may be implemented on the return of the employee. The appointment with the Occupational Doctor and employee should be able to determine the length in which the employee will remain absent and state if a further appointment will be required in the future.
It is recommended that the Employer invites the employee to a follow up meeting to discuss the results and recommendations from the Occupational Doctor’s appointment. The employer must address what was discussed in this meeting through writing. The results of the report could result in either of the following:
- If the employee was certified to return to work by the Occupational Doctor, the Employer would discuss with the Employee the next steps to their return to the workplace following a risk assessment.
- If the employee is not yet deemed fit to return to work, the Employer must advise the Employee of their next meeting and if a further Occupational appointment is required.
When the employee is deemed fit and certified to return to their normal duties they then can be scheduled to return to work. On the return of all employees to work post-absence it is advised that the employer completes a return to work meeting. A follow up letter addressing the points discussed within this meeting must be issued to the employee.
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 be obtained where there are limited capabilities outlined by the Occupational Doctor as there may be a number of factors to take into consideration.
If the employee is incapable of returning to work under 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 they were employed for. The employer must first look at the factual position concerning the employee’s capacity, and this will involve looking at 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 and/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 confirm that the employees condition is worsening as a result of their severe medical condition - the following test is a requirement that the employer must comply with in order to have a fair dismissal i.e. the declining ill health is the reason for the dismissal.
There is no set timeline for this process. Employees should be communicated with constantly throughout their absence. It must be noted that each employee’s absence is different and should be managed in respect to their illness or conditions.
More on Sickness & Absence
- Workplace stress - How do I Handle It?
- Payment for Covid-19 Related Sickness Absence
- A General Operator v Manufacturing 
- Employment Implications of the Coronavirus Outbreak - Your Questions Answered
- An Employee Has Been Certified as Fit to Return to Work On Lighter Duties – How Do I Handle It?
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.