Sick leave: The rules
AJ asked what she should do about a staff member who is off sick for an extended time in a position that needs filling.
Dealing with the issue of staff off work with long-term sickness can be difficult and stressful for everyone involved.
You do not have to hold a position open indefinitely, but it pays to get the process right.
Here are the steps to follow after a staff member has exhausted their sick leave entitlement and any annual leave owing:
Ensure you follow any processes set out in employment agreements or your office manual if they specify more generous provisions. Get advice if you are unsure what to do.
After an employee has been off sick for three consecutive days (not necessarily working days) you can require them to produce a medical certificate at their cost.
You can require this earlier if you agree to meet their reasonable costs of obtaining proof, and let them know they need to obtain it as soon as possible.
The certificate should state when they are expected to be able to return to work (fully or partially). If the return to work is partial, then the certificate should state what types of duties they should be fit to perform.
You need to consider whether you can cover the period of expected illness with current staff or a temp, and the economics of doing so.
Perhaps you may be able to get by with a temp, but the costs may be prohibitive or the temp may not be able to perform all tasks.
Also consider the pressure that may be put on the other staff having to pick up extra tasks.
Consider any steps you can take to aid the employee’s rehabilitation, such as providing part-time work or light duties or even a different role.
If you decide you need to put a time limit on a return to work, you need to write to the employee and specify when they need to be able to return to full-time work.
You will want to specify that they must be making sufficient progress by a certain date (perhaps so many hours per day, or certain duties).
You will also need to specify a requirement for their medical practitioner to report on progress at regular intervals.
At the review point, you need to follow up with a notice requiring them to be fully fit to resume work by a set date.
You also need to require a certificate from their doctor that they consider that the employee is (or will be by a certain date) fully fit to resume their duties.
You also need to tell them that, if they are not able to resume full duties, you will have to make a decision on their continued employment.
Ask them to provide you with any information they wish you to take into account should it become necessary to make a decision on their job.
If they advise that they are unfit to resume work or they fail to attend work by the due date, you need to consider whether you terminate their employment.
Ask yourself whether there are any alternatives to dismissal that are reasonable in the circumstances.
If you decide to terminate their employment you need to give them notice.
The length of notice will be that in their agreement. You also need to consider whether you will make any payment on termination (as a goodwill gesture).
Some agreements also provide for payments on medical termination.
The time frames you set really depend on how much leeway you are willing to give for the employee to recover.
This will vary from employee to employee and be guided by how much they offer to the company by way of skills, together with any loyalty they have generated by long and valued service.