How to Manage Long Term Sickness Absence?

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Long term sickness absence is usually defined by a period of 4 or more weeks absence where employers need to follow the correct policies and HR practices carefully and sensitively in order to manage each absence on a case-by-case basis yet always following a fair and supportive HR process.

The absence could be considered;

  • An unexpected medical illness
  • A long term condition
  • An accident or planned surgery

It is important to support your employees, you have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment and protect their health, safety and wellbeing at work and returning to work after any absence from work.

Long Term Sick – How to best to manage it?            

Keeping in touch. It is crucial to maintain the lines of communication open between the employee and employer, it will not only help the employee feel valued, cared for and listened to but from the employers point of view it will help manage the business needs, workload and expectations required from other team members for cover. This should give the employee some peace of mind that their workload is being taken care of while they can focus on their recovery.  

Staying in touch can be in any form that works for both parties, it is important to be mindful and respectful of each individual case and what may be suitable for one employee may not be for another. For instance, if someone is unable to drive due to an operation it could be deemed unreasonable to expect them to travel to the office to meet you, whereas another may live close by and welcome the walk coming to meet in the office and see familiar faces.

Don’t be afraid to ask what works best for the employee, face to face meeting in the office, home or somewhere external, a phone call or email?. Weekly or monthly? Perhaps a week before the sicknote is due to expire? Overall it’s important to be open minded and flexible as to what may work well one week may not the next.

Processes to follow with Long term Sickness:

1 – First Formal Meeting

Arrange a first formal meeting to discuss;

  • Likely return to work date and any adjustments needed to support the employee’s return to work
  • If return to work date is significantly longer than expected or not likely discuss whether the employer can continue to wait for the employee to return to work
  • Review and discuss any medical reports or sick notes received
  • Discuss making further arrangements for a medical review or assessment from an occupational health practitioner or their GP
  • Determine whether the employee has a disability and if so, what adjustments should be made to support the employee at work.
  • Can the employee return to their previous job or whether adjustments need to be considered supporting them back to work, if not if redeployment or adjustment of hours would be suitable and possible?
  • A return to work plan with any medical advise and discuss a phased return to work plan if advised.

2 – Keep a record

Always take notes of all discussions, in person or by phone. Take minutes of any meetings and always follow up with employee in writing reiterating any discussions had.

Keep a record of any expenses the business incurs due to the long-term illness, any temporary cover or redistribution of the workload.

3 – Seek Medical Advice

You may (with the employees’ consent) need to seek medical advice from a medical or a health practitioner to understand fully their medical needs, this will help the company to assess how best to support the employee returning to work with perhaps a phased return to work or reduction of responsibilities, that is safe and beneficial for the employee.

4 –  Hold a follow up 2nd meeting

If the employee continues to be signed off work following your first meeting it is important to arrange a second formal meeting to review previous discussions and actions taken from both employer and employee. It is important to maintain contact and where possible hold face-to face meetings with employee but within reason and with the employees consent, always taking in to account each individual case and what is reasonable.

5 – Final formal Meeting

If the employee is still absent, they are approaching exhausting their sick pay and medical information isn’t giving you any indication of a return to work within a reasonable timescale then it may be time to consider inviting the employee to a final absence meeting where you discuss together the likelihood of their return to work and whether to terminate their employment on grounds of ill health. This is not a discussion anyone wishes to have however, in our experience by the time of the final meeting most employees feel a sense of relief and common ground in reaching this decision. If you need to review your company absence policy, sickness procedures or you are currently managing a long-term sickness at work, Harwood HR consultants at available to support you and guide you through this process. Get in touch for a consultation of how we can help you.

Harwood HR – HR Consultants providing HR Consultancy and HR Outsourced Services.  We provide clear, cost effective HR advice. For a free consultation, please contact us on:

0117 439 0119 or

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