Managing Long Term Absence

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 21 April 2023
Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite
Issues covered: Long Term Absence; Sick Leave; Policies and Procedures

Absenteeism is a substantial cost for every business in Ireland. There are a number of steps an employer can take in order to address long term absence.

The Workplace Relations Act 2015 outlines that employees accrue annual leave and public holiday entitlements while on certified sick leave. This can result in a large cost for the employer who have employees on long term sick leave. Prior to the introduction of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, employers allowed employees to continue on long term absence without any intervention. However, its best practice for employers to manage absenteeism in order to lower staff costs.

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 including: Notification Procedure, Certification Procedure, Statutory Sick Leave Payment, Additional Sick Pay Scheme (if any), Referral to Occupational Doctor Procedures and Return to Work Procedures.

The employee must adhere to the Company Absence and Sick Leave procedure from the commencement of their absence. It is vital that the employer manages the employee’s absence at this stage and keeps the channels of communication open. If the employee is not adhering to the Absence and Sick Leave Policy, it is important that the employer communicates 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 correspondence for the employee’s reference.

It is recommended that once a period of four weeks has passed and the employee has not returned to work,  the employer should communicate with the employee inviting them to attend a company meeting to discuss their ongoing absence. This meeting can take place by call, online or in person. The aim of the meeting is to get an update of the employee’s 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 employee’s 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 Occupational 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 need to be implemented on the return of the employee to the workplace. The appointment between the Occupational Doctor and the employee should determine the length in which the employee will remain absent and outline 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 feedback and recommendations from the Occupational Doctor. All meetings should be followed up in writing, addressing what was discussed. The results of the Occupational Health 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 the completion of 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 may be scheduled to return to work. On the return of all employees to work post absence, it is best practice to conduct a return to work meeting. A follow up communication 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.

An employee may be incapable of returning to work under Section 16 (1) of the Employment Equality Act 1998, which states that ‘an employer is not obliged to retain an employee who is not fully capable of doing the job they were employed for’. In this situation, 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. On this occasion, it is vital that a risk assessment is carried out. The cost of the special treatment and/or facilities must be considered in light of the size of the company.

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 of their illness or condition.

Wellbeing strategies can play a fundamental role in reducing causes and cutting long-term absence and evidence-based understanding of wellbeing in the workplace. An Employee Assistance Programme is a cost efficient, easy to implement initiative and offers a confidential and valuable service to all employees. 

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This article is correct at 21/04/2023

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

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