Sickness absence, whether it is for work-related stress (WRS) or for some other illness, can be a frustrating process for an employer to deal with. But, as Kate Meadowcroft, employment solicitor at law firm Ricksons advises, employers must ensure they deal with WRS absence correctly due to the risk of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination claims.
As she explains, whilst off on sick leave for WRS there is no obligation for the employee to contact the employer to inform them of doctor or hospital appointments or indeed the outcome of any such appointment.
However, this is always subject to any contrary provision in the contract of employment or absence policy.
It is nevertheless advisable and helpful for the employer to try and keep in regular contact with the employee (unless any medical advice obtained indicates that it would be inappropriate to do so).
An employer should ensure that they have all the necessary information on the medical position,’ advises Meadowcroft.
This can be done by obtaining the employeeÂ’s consent to write to their GP for a report or where appropriate obtaining consent to refer the employee to a specialist for a report.
Meadowcroft adds that an employer should also consider whether it is appropriate to ask to contact a relative/friend of the employee.
It may be that whilst the employee cannot face discussing his illness directly with the employer he will consent to a relative updating the employer. An employer should keep a written record of any conversations he has either with the employee or the relative/friend.
Are employers able to ask staff to come to work for regular stress assessments? Meadowcroft explains that as the stress is work-related, an employer will face difficulties in requesting that employees come to work for regular assessments.
They may find coming into work too stressful and such a request may only exacerbate the condition.
“Medical advice should be sought as to whether an employee could attend any such assessment. If the employee cannot attend the employer can suggest meeting at a neutral location or the employee’s home,” she counsels.
Ultimately, whether the employee is fit to return to work will depend on the medical evidence. It is important therefore that employers ensure they are in receipt of up-to-date medical certificates and medical reports
“It’s important to work with the employee to try and help them return to work.and to investigate possible causes of stress allowing both parties to consider what can be done to alleviate that stress,” concludes Meadowcroft.
See also: Ten tips for managing stress in the workplace – Adrian Lewis says many organisations could do more to recognise and combat stress and offers the following tips