Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Encourage sick staff back to work

Shropshire companies should work hard to rehabilitate staff who have been off long-term sick, a local solicitor has said.

John Mehtam is the Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, and said making an effort with staff who have been absent for a long time could bring real dividends.

“Encouraging a sick employee back to work earlier will mean you can reduce the unnecessary cost of finding someone else to do their job temporarily, and it also helps to motivate the employee.”

He said that long-term sickness absence was reported to cost UK business over £3.8 billion every year.

“But by making the effort to rehabilitate your sick staff, you really can help your business and the employee at the same time.”

John said research had shown that where companies did not attempt to rehabilitate their staff, 80 per cent of people on long-term sickness never returned to work.

“And yet if you do work together, you can reduce the unnecessary costs of recruiting a temporary replacement, avoid disability claims as you will be seen to have tried to make reasonable adjustments, and increase the productivity - an employee who returns part-time is better than not at all.”

Employers should work on a rehabilitation programme, to help the employee return to work as smoothly as possible.

“Stay in touch with the employee to stop them feeling isolated, and also to keep up to date with how their health is progressing.

“With their permission, contact their doctor, and ask if a phased return may be possible, perhaps part-time or with changes to their duties.

“And after consulting their doctor, work with the employee to produce a plan setting out duties and working hours, which may need to be changed in the short-term, and also allow for regular progress meetings.”

John said after a trial period on the amended terms, progress should be measured to see if the employee is able to return full-time, or if the current arrangement needs to go on longer.

“If it’s clear that the arrangement has not, and will not, work, it should be safe to dismiss the person on medical grounds - but keep good records of the reasonable actions you have taken to try to help them return to work, to avoid a disability discrimination claim.”