Here at GHR Consulting, we have recently received an uptake of queries from our clients for advice on how to manage employees who are out on long term sick leave. Below, we take a look at best practices for employers on how to deal with employees on long term sick leave.
What is defined by Long Term Sick Leave?
Long term sick leave is when an employee is absent from their place of work for an extended period of time due to ill health. In Ireland, long term sick leave would be considered when an employee has been absent from their job for more than four weeks.
Can Employers Contact Employees who are on Long Term Sick Leave?
In general, the employer should be in regular contact with the employee who is on sick leave to gauge the nature/severity of the illness, support the employee. It is recommended that once a period of four weeks has passed and the employee has not returned to work. that the employer should invite the employee to attend a company meeting to discuss their ongoing absence. The aim of this meeting is for the employer to receive an update of the employees’ absence and to seek a potential return to work date. All meetings should be followed up in writing addressing what was discussed.
Can Employees Retain Annual Leave and Public Holidays on Long Term Sick Leave?
Yes, since the introduction of the new Workplace Relations Act in 2015, employees can now accrue annual leave and public holidays while on certified sick leave. An employer cannot insist for an employee to take annual leave on days they are off sick, if the employee has a medical certificate for those days.
Do Employees get paid whilst on Long Term Sick Leave?
Payment during long term sick leave is entirely dependent on the employer’s decision to operate a sick pay scheme or not. Employees should be able to determine whether their employer operates a sick pay scheme in their contract of employment. However, new Sick Pay legislation is due to be implemented in Ireland later this year where employers are now legally required to pay sick leave for up to 3 sick days per year. This is planned to increase to 5 days in 2024, 7 days in 2025 and 10 days in 2026. A rate of payment for statutory sick leave of 70% of normal wages will be paid by employers (up to a maximum €110 per day). Additionally, the legislation will provide the right for employees to take a complaint to the WRC where they are not provided with a company sick pay scheme.
What Documentation should Employers have in place to deal with Employees on Long Term Sick Leave?
It is crucial that employers have a Sickness Absence Policy in place to cover a number of key sickness absence areas including notification procedure, sick leave payment (if any), certification procedure, referral to company doctor procedure and the return to work process. The policy will help clarify the procedures that should be followed by both the employer and employee for sickness absences, in line with statutory legislation. Without a Sickness Absence Policy in place, the employer is likely to lose control of the employees’ absence and communication with the employee may weaken as a result.
What happens if the employee did not adhere to the Sickness Absenteeism Policy?
If the employee is not adhering to the Sickness Absence Policy, it is important that the employer writes to the employee and requests that they follow these procedures in which they have agreed to. It is best practice for an employer and employee to retain a copy of the Sickness Absence Policy to refer to if long term absenteeism was to occur.