Absent, but not forgotten
Linda Wilson, Head of our Employment Department, provides employers with some guidance on dealing with employees who are absent from work on long term sick leave or maternity leave.
Employees can be absent for long periods of time due to either ill health or family related leave such as maternity leave. Sometimes such employees can be forgotten or ignored and employers may not realise what their obligations are.
Set out below are a few points highlighting some of the issues to look out for when you have employees on long term sick leave or maternity leave.
Communication. How does your employee wish to be contacted and updated? Does your sick employee wish to be contacted at all? Do not assume simply because someone is on leave that they do not want to be contacted. Most employees on maternity leave appreciate updates whilst away from the office. Sometimes you may need to contact your employee, whether your employee would like it or not. Depending on the size and nature of your business, it is sometimes helpful to designate someone in the business to be responsible for updating and communicating with those on long term leave to avoid them being forgotten.
Pay. It is important to be open about pay and what the employee’s rights are regarding any contractual or statutory pay. This avoids any confusion or misunderstandings. It is also important for the business to be aware of the costs of such leave.
Holiday. Always remember that those on sick leave and maternity leave accrue holiday. With those on maternity leave this needs to be dealt with before they go on maternity leave so that any holiday can be used up before the employee starts their maternity leave. When employees return from leave, they may then have accrued holiday in the next leave year and this will need to be dealt with on their return to work.
Protection under the law. Those employees on maternity leave have certain extra protection under the law regarding the right to return to the same job after a period of ordinary maternity leave and, for example, extra protection in redundancy situations. Extra protection may also be afforded to those on long term sick leave if they are suffering from a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Depending on whether your employees have protection under the law, this then has an impact on any process or procedure you may need to follow or, for example, how you arrange an employee’s return to work.
Avoid delays. If an employee on sick leave or maternity leave raises queries or grievances, do not delay in dealing with them simply because they are not in the office. This can sometimes happen because they are “out of sight, out of mind”. If an employee is on sick leave with stress or anxiety, unnecessary delay will only exacerbate the situation.
Business Transfers. There have been recent cases on whether employees on long term sickness absence are assigned to an “organised grouping” for TUPE purposes and employers must remember to consider those on long term sick leave and maternity leave if dealing with a business transfer.