Handling long-term illness and long-term sick leave of an employee in the UK can be a complex and delicate matter for both the employee and the employer. It is important for employers to understand their obligations and responsibilities under UK employment law and government guidelines in order to support their employees and ensure compliance. This article will provide an overview of key considerations for employers when dealing with long-term illness, including examples of best practices.
UK employment law and government guidelines
Under UK law, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with disabilities, including those with long-term illnesses. This includes adapting working hours, providing special equipment or facilities, and making changes to the workplace.
The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Long-term illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, and mental health conditions, can fall under this definition.
Employers also have a duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This includes assessing the risks to employees with long-term illnesses and taking appropriate action to manage those risks.
In addition, the UK government has issued guidelines for employers on supporting employees with long-term health conditions. These guidelines encourage employers to have open and flexible conversations with employees about their needs and to provide appropriate support, including time off for medical appointments and adjustments to working hours or duties.
Best practices for handling long-term illness
- Open and flexible communication: It is important for employers to maintain open and flexible communication with employees who have long-term illnesses. This includes regularly checking in with the employee to see how they are managing their condition and discussing any adjustments that may be necessary to support them in their role.
- Risk assessments: Employers should conduct risk assessments to identify any potential hazards or risks to employees with long-term illnesses and take appropriate action to manage those risks. This may include providing special equipment or facilities or making changes to the workplace.
- Adjustments to working hours or duties: Employers should consider making adjustments to working hours or duties to support employees with long-term illnesses. For example, an employee with a chronic condition may need to take regular breaks or work flexible hours to manage their condition.
- Time off for medical appointments: Employers should be understanding of the need for employees with long-term illnesses to take time off for medical appointments and should provide appropriate support.
- Employee assistance programs: Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide support for employees with long-term illnesses. These programs can include counselling, financial advice, and legal assistance.
- Mental Health Support: Long-term illnesses can take a toll on an employee’s mental health, so employers should also provide support for employee’s mental wellbeing. This may include providing access to a confidential counselling service or an Employee Assistance Program.
- Return to work: When an employee is returning to work after a period of long-term sickness, employers should have a phased return to work program in place. This should involve a gradual increase in hours and responsibilities over time to help the employee adjust to being back at work.
- Regular reviews: Regular reviews should be held with the employee to assess the progress of their condition and any adjustments that may be required.
In conclusion, handling long-term illness of an employee in the UK is a complex and delicate matter that requires employers to understand their obligations and responsibilities under UK employment law and government guidelines. Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with disabilities, including those with long-term illnesses.
By implementing best practices such as open and flexible communication, risk assessments, adjustments to working hours or duties, time off for medical appointments, employee assistance programs, mental health support, return to work programs and regular reviews, employers can effectively support their employees and ensure compliance with the law. It is important for employers to remember that supporting employees with long-term illnesses not only benefits the employee but also the overall productivity and well-being of the organisation.