What Can Employers Do if an Employee’s Long-Term Ill-Health is Preventing Them From Working?

Picture Credit: Blood drive at the NIH Clinical Center; NIH History Office

When a trusted, dedicated and valued employee is required to go on long-term sick leave, it not only has an impact on the individual’s personal life but you and your business would also have to learn to cope with this absence. In the event that a long-term illness or injury does affect an employee, there are actions that employers can and should take to ensure that they maintain their duty of care whilst doing the best they can to both manage without them, and support the future career path of the employee.

Statistics show that one in four people in England are currently living with a long-term health condition, which is currently defined as an incurable problem that is treated by medication or therapies. There is evidence to show that productivity deteriorates when an employee has a mental or physical health condition, so it’s really important that both the employee and employer take the necessary steps to support a road to recovery and, ultimately, aim for a return to work.

Long-term sickness absence policy

This policy states the actions that an employer needs to take, by law, when one of their employees has to take long-term sick leave. The policy suggests that employers should try to find a balance between giving an employee the time to recover, even if this is a slow process, and minimising the damage to workplace productivity and efficiency. The policy also clarifies that an employer should make every effort to support the employee’s return to work before sending them away on sick leave. For employers that are unsure what illnesses qualify long-term absence, this policy also provides the relevant information.

The steps to take as an employer

The primary aim of an employer in the event of a sickness is to support the employee and facilitate a return to work as quickly as possible. During the absence, the employer is required to keep in regular contact. 28 days after the employee has left, the employer should contact them to establish the method of contact, and how often they should check in – this should be regular and at least on a monthly basis.

The employer may also find it necessary to contact the employee’s GP (it should be noted that the employee’s permission is required first). After doing so, it may be helpful to arrange an occupational health assessment so that the employer is kept up-to-date with the condition. In this situation, it’s a good idea to consider whether, according to the nature of the employee’s illness, that a return to a less physically demanding or less stressful job may be more suited to them. If they do decide to return to your place of work, it may be necessary to cut down their working hours initially. Additionally, if the illness has rendered them disabled, it’s important to start considering how you can adapt your workplace with the adjustments needed.

It’s also important to consider the other employees as the absence will ultimately have an impact on their workload. It may therefore be necessary in some, but not all cases to hire someone on a temporary contract.


In the event of a long-term sickness, the employer will likely consider measures to improve the health and wellbeing of their other employees. There are support services and training courses available to workplaces which can help to educate workers on how to optimise their health and reduce the risks of serious illnesses.

Mental Health First Aid offer training courses such as preventative events and drop-in clinics which encourage people to speak out about mental illnesses. Additionally, providing equipment in the workplace that reduces injury risks is also a good idea.

If you have concerns regarding an employee’s long term health issues, please do get in touch with us via email at [email protected] or call 01386 751740.