Sick of the sick note – employers need not despair

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By Miss Performance

If I had a penny for each time an employer sighs at the arrival of a sick note, I’d be living in a palace and bathing in milk.

Unfortunately I’m still in our Derry-Londonderry office hammering on the keyboard with no more than a glass of stale milk and a cup of cooling coffee – but hey, that’s no cause for despair.

Equally employers need not despair when faced with cases of long term absence as there are many steps they can take to solve their issue with minimum risk.

The sick note is a fact of life and can be very distressing not only for business owners but for managers and the absent employee’s colleagues.


Employee absence due to long term sickness results in logistical headaches for employers who are often left pulling their hair out trying to make ends meet as well as maintaining standards in their operations.

Unequipped with the right knowledge they often despair and that can lead to one of two things: acting rashly and putting the business at risk of tribunal or not acting at all and putting their business in financial jeopardy.

Although each long term absence case must be treated according to its merits, there are always steps to take with the right know-how. At HR Team Service we assure clients in the UK, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that in dealing with absence management – in particular employee sickness and the dreaded long term sick note – there is always a solution.

There is a misconception among many employers that they cannot legally dismiss employees who are incapable of performing their duties for whatever reason, sickness being one. However, through the use of fair and reasonable process cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination can be avoided or easily defended in tribunal.


Maintain communication with the employee

Carry out regular absence review meetings with the employee, in order to ascertain their current condition; whether you can make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to facilitate a return to work; whether there are any other options to consider such as a phased return to work, lighter job duties or reduced hours; and when the employee anticipates that they will be able to return. For example, should they have a back problem and sit at a workstation, you may wish to consider providing more appropriate chairs which cater for such conditions.

Obtain a professional medical opinion

Assuming you are not a doctor, I must stress the importance of seeking medical expert advice on the absent employee’s condition. This allows you to make an informed decision. Don’t forget that you will need to obtain the employee’s consent prior to seeking this information in line with the relevant legislation. Once you obtain this consent you can ask the GP specific questions in relation to the employee’s condition. Ensure to cover everything that you need to know.

Make a selection

Providing you have followed a fair and reasonable process involving both the employee and their GP (or an Independent specialist appointed by the company), you should be in a position to make an informed decision; this will normally be facilitating a return to work or dismissal on the grounds of incapability to perform duties. Either way, you must be able to produce a paper trail of the entire process to demonstrate fairness. Your decision can only be based on fact to minimise risk.

If you require guidance with similar absence management or any employment law issue in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or the UK, please contact HR Team on 028 71 271882 or or contact us through our website

HR Team will not be liable for any litigation. Please seek our professional advice for complex cases.

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