Dealing with health problems at work

An employee’s health problems will often have an impact on their employment, through increased absence levels or being unable to perform certain parts of their role without some adjustments being made by the employer.

While all employers should be sympathetic to individuals who have health problems, they will understandably also have concerns about the impact on the business and other colleagues caused by high levels of absence or lack of capability.

Employers should keep in regular touch with employees who are absent due to ill-health; a phone call to check how they are doing may be all that is required. An employee with health problems should never just be allowed to languish “on the sick” with no contact from the employer.

Where appropriate (depending upon the nature of the illness) an employer should keep the employee up to date with workplace issues and news – in the same way they would for someone on maternity or other family leave.

Can an employee be fired for a health condition?

In theory, yes. But everything will depend upon the facts in each case such as the nature of the illness, the employee’s job and the size and circumstances of the employer.

If an employee has a health condition which has caused them to be absent from work over a long period of time, and there is no prospect of an imminent recovery and return to work, then there comes a point at which an employer is entitled to say “enough is enough”.  The question in all cases will be, has that point been reached?

Where an employee can no longer do their job because of ill-health then an employer can potentially dismiss them fairly for capability reasons.

An employer must first follow a fair procedure and this will usually involve obtaining at least one expert medical opinion about the course the illness may take, and consultation with the employee to discuss the possibility of dismissal and whether there are alternatives to it.

In addition, an employee who is considered by law to be “disabled” (which has a very wide meaning) will have additional protections from discrimination, including being entitled to reasonable adjustments being made for them by the employer to enable them to return to work and do their job.

Work causing health problems

All employers have a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their workforce. This includes both physical and mental health.

An employer will be liable for breach of this duty if what it does or doesn’t do can be shown to have caused an employee’s ill-health or injury.

As well as a claim under their contract of employment, an employee may also have a personal injury claim for negligence where work has caused their health issue.

Where an employer has caused or significantly contributed to an employee’s ill-health or injury, they will be expected to do more to assist in the employee’s return to work, for example by making adjustments or adaptations to the workplace.

Tackling sickness absence

We can help you tackle sickness absence with confidence. Whether the absence is ad hoc or longer term, we will ensure that you deal with each case properly and that you are protected from any costly compensation claims.

Our experienced employment law solicitors have a proven track record in helping business successfully navigate sickness absence issues. We will save you money and help you avoid legal claims.

Contact us for an initial chat with our helpful team.

Expertise for employers

Starting employment: contracts and policies

During employment: handling staff problems

Common issues raised by staff

Ending employment



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