As small Engineering business, having employees absent from work not only caused tremendous amounts of stress, but also slowed down production thus missing client targets. Our client called us stating that one of their employee Paul has been off now with stress for 4 months, with no sign of him coming back anytime soon. Paul has been with the business 18 months before he was signed off.
The company clearly stated ‘enough is enough, we either want Paul to come back into work or we need to part company’. We managed to take the stress away from the client in managing Paul’s Long Term Sickness.
What we did
As Paul was signed off work with stress, one must proceed with caution, frustrating though this situation may be. Where employees are signed off with stress, it is always good practice to keep in contact with them (making sure that the contact is not too much, otherwise this could be deemed as harassment) to see if there is anything you can do to help. However, we found that this had not been the case with Paul.
The first step we did was to write to Paul asking for his consent to write to his GP to seek a medical report. We asked the GP questions such as how long has Paul suffered from the condition, what their diagnosis and prognosis is, whether the employee is on medication and whether the doctor feels that Paul will be able to return to work in the foreseeable future. We also ask the GP if, in their opinion, the employee should be considered disabled as defined in the Equality Act 2010 and what reasonable adjustments, reduced duties if any, they think the business could make that would enable Paul to return to work.
Once we received the report from the GP we were in a position to invite Paul to a capability meeting (although it should be noted that this is not always the case, it depends on how detailed the report is; it may sometimes be necessary to instruct an occupational health assessor in addition to this). At the meeting, we supported Paul’s Line Manger to go through the report with the Paul and see if he agreed with the prognosis and whether he thinks he will be fit to return to work in the foreseeable future.
We then explored with our client, possible reasonable adjustments we could make for Paul. As a small niche Engineering business employing only 16 staff there were no suitable options for Paul, apart from a phased return to work with a permanent job share (permanent part-time contract).
We often, get asked by employers ‘what is a reasonable adjustment’? ‘Do I have to make a new job for the employee’? The answer to this question is often not straightforward and will depend to an extent on the size and resources of the Company. Paul felt that he did not think he can return to work on the production line with his current mental health, even with the reasonable adjustments.
We then concluded as per the Capability Policy to terminate Paul’s employment on the grounds of ill health capability. We ensured that Paul is paid his contractual notice, and outstanding accrued holiday pay. We also agreed as a goodwill gesture to support Paul by paying for private Counselling sessions to treat his condition. As well as making sure the correct paperwork was in place, we guided the client to manage this situation sensitively, so the Paul felt supported even though he was being dismissed.