Manage absence and sickness

Employee absence as a capability issue


An employee may become incapable of doing their job to the required standard because they are genuinely affected by either of the following:

  • long-term ill health related to an underlying medical condition and therefore they don't attend work for a long period of time
  • frequent bouts of short-term sickness related to an underlying medical condition and they are therefore unable to attend work regularly

Addressing absence as a capability issue

In either of these circumstances, you should treat any absence as a capability issue and:

  • deal with the situation sensitively
  • investigate, measure and monitor the employee's absence record
  • consult them regularly to find out about their health and discuss ways of enabling them to remain in the workplace, or if on long term sickness absence the likelihood of a return to work
  • set time limits on assessing the situation and tell the employee
  • let them know if their job is at risk, and why
  • obtain medical reports - although you'll need their permission
  • consider adjustments to their job to allow them to return to work and/or do their job more easily
  • consider offering any other vacancy you may have which has duties that the employee may be fit to perform

To avoid an unfair dismissal claim, only dismiss as a last resort. Make sure you have followed fair and proper procedures, including the statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedures. See dismissing employees.

Keep in mind the following:

  • Check if the illness relates to a disability - if so, you may need to make reasonable adjustments so that the employee can carry out their job. For the definition of disability, see how to prevent discrimination and value diversity.
  • Discount any periods of absence related to a pregnancy-related illness when taking action over someone's absence record. For the rights of pregnant employees, see pregnancy at work.
  • An eligible employee may be entitled to statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks - as well as any contractual sick pay. See pay: employer obligations.

Absence related to drugs and alcohol

Treat employees addicted to drugs or alcohol similarly to employees with any other serious illness. However, if an employee won't accept they have a problem or seek help, the issue may become one of unacceptable conduct.

Where the issue is purely one of conduct, ie the employee is not addicted to alcohol or drugs but their drug/alcohol consumption is leading to regular absence/lateness, you should consider subjecting them to your disciplinary procedure.

See workplace policies on smoking, drugs and alcohol and employee absence as a conduct issue.