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Over the last two months we have seen a significant number of enquiries regarding employees on sick leave. A number of the enquiries relate to employees on long term sick leave [in excess of one year in particular] or were an employee has been on maternity leave and then moves to sick leave.

It is important to ‘manage’ these situations and not to leave things with no follow up with the employee. Today is the first HR Tip in a series of three on sick leave.

Our HR Tip today deals with enquiries regarding employees out on long term sick leave regarding medical certificates, communicating with employees and referral to an Occupational Medical Adviser [OMA]. The referral to the OMA is in relation to ascertaining a possible return to work date or an indication of the possible timeframe of the employee’s absence from work.

If you have an employee who has been on sick leave for a number of months or in some cases significantly longer for example over twelve months there should be some form of communication with the employee by the employer. It is not in the interest of the employer or the employee not to have some form of communication during a long period of absence. The type and level of communication may vary from employer to employer.

The first point is to refer to your sick leave policy and see what is set out in relation to submission of medical certificates, referral to an OMA and communicating with employees while on sick leave.

While sick leave policies may refer to submission of medical certificates, they may not refer to communication with employees who are on sick leave. Some of the following may be helpful for review and update of the sick leave policy.

  1. While an employer may not pay employees while out on sick leave employees are required to submit a medical certificate to the employer to cover their ongoing absence from work.
  2. State the number of days when a medical certificate should be submitted for example if the employee is out more than two days than a medical certificate is required on the third day or out more than three days than a medical certificate is required on the fourth day.
  3. Where an employee is out on ‘long term’ sick leave then an employee may submit a medical certificate on a monthly basis. The employer should agree this with the employee particularly where the sick leave policy may require weekly submission of medical certificates.
  4. An employee is entitled to accrue their annual leave while on long term sick leave subject to the submission of medical certificates for the period of absence. Employees can retain annual leave they could not take due to illness for up to 15 months after the end of the year in which it is accrued.
  5. If outlined in either the contract or the employee handbook that the employer reserves the right to refer an employee to their medical adviser, the employee is required to attend the company medical adviser. The employer should communicate with the employee in setting up this arrangement and this should be done by written correspondence or email. The frequency that the employer may refer the employee may be dependent on the duration and nature of the sick leave.
  6. Communication with the employee while on sick leave can be by phone to check in and see how they are, check that they will be returning to work on the date supplied on the medical certificate or are they are still on sick leave. Employers in the Early Years sector may need to ascertain this information in a timely manner so that they can arrange cover given the requirement for adult/child ratios. If referring an employee to an OMA, this should be set out in writing with the details of the referral. While an employer may ‘check in’ with an employee on sick leave this should be relevant and not excessive.

If there is no submission of medical certificates from the employee, the employer should communicate with the employee requesting submission of same with immediate effect or within a specified timeframe. This communication should be through written correspondence or email. There may of course be exceptional circumstances that arise where there is a valid reason for the delay in submission of a medical certificate.

Check in with us next week for our next HR TIP on sick leave