Long term sickness can be difficult to deal with in any business. However, when that business is staffed by just two or three people, when one of them needs to take a long period of time off work, because they are ill, the impact can be even greater. How do you cope without them? How long do you have to keep their job open?
One of our clients is a small agency with just three members of staff, including the business owner. Earlier this year, their secretary was rushed into hospital. After three weeks of tests, she was told that she should take another 2-3 months to fully recover. The business owner knew that this was the best course of action, not wanting his employee to return to work before she was really well enough to work again. So that he and his other team member weren’t over loaded with work (which could have made both of them stressed and ill!) they took on a part-time Admin Assistant to cover the work. The boss still had to pay Statutory Sick Pay to his recuperating secretary and, due to changes to the law that occurred in April 2014, he was not able to claim any of this back – something that is easier for larger companies to bear.
All through this time, the business owner had kept in touch with his secretary to see how she was getting on. As the agreed period of sick leave was coming to an end, it became apparent that she might not be ready to return to a full-time job. There were other complications that meant that a full risk assessment would have to be carried out, should she return. How long should the job be kept open?
Our advice to our client was to write to the employee’s doctor and ask for a full medical report. Even though this had to be paid for, it showed that she was not ready to go back to working full-time. During her time away, the other members of the small team had realised that they really did need full-time support. Because the lines of communication had been kept open, the three of them were able to reach an amicable decision about the future, which suited both of them.
The lessons they have all taken away from this situation is to stay in communication (aside from the fact that it shows you care!) and to get advice from an HR professional, to make sure you are complying with employment law at all stages. When you follow these two tips, potentially tricky situations are so much easier to resolve.