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Long-term sickness and disability

Abstract

If you are in work and become disabled through illness, an accident or a medical condition, you may be worried about returning to work or whether your employer has an obligation to keep your job open for you

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Time off from work

Employers have responsibilities towards their employees, and this includes managing both planned and unplanned sick leave – and helping their staff plan a return to work.

If you take time off, try to keep in touch with your employer during the time you are away from work.

This may include:

■Keeping in regular contact;

■Asking to be kept up to date with what's happening at work;

■Asking about your colleagues;

■Asking for reassurance that details about your illness or disability remain confidential, if that's what you want.

This should help you feel less isolated and lessen any worries you may have about taking time off and/or returning to work.

Statutory sick pay

If you are an employee and unable to work because of an illness or disability, you may be able to get statutory sick pay (SSP) (see VR Careers, January 16, 2010, p i). Some employers have their own sick pay scheme instead.

If you are still unable to work after 28 weeks, or you cannot get SSP, you can apply for employment and support allowance.

Further information is available from www.direct.gov.uk on the subjects of SSP (general money, tax and bene­fits section) and employment and support allowance.

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Keeping your job open

Your employer should not put pressure on you to resign because you have become disabled. Dismissing someone simply because they become disabled is likely to be direct discrimination, which is unlawful.

Your employer should consider whether there are changes that they could make at work to enable you to carry out your job. These are known as ‘reasonable adjustments’. Reasonable adjustments may include things like:

■A phased return to work – perhaps working flexible hours or part time;

■Time off for medical treatment or counselling;

■Allocating to another employee some tasks that can no longer be done easily by you;

■Providing practical aids and technical equipment for you.

Businesses and organisations vary in structure and size, so what may be ‘reasonable’ for one may not be so for another. Depending on your disability, a return to the same role may not be appropriate.

Your employer could speak to a Disability Employment Adviser at a Jobcentre Plus office for advice on their responsibilities towards employees who are, or who have become, disabled and to discuss a solution to any problems there may be. This could include the ‘Access to Work’ scheme (see www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/Employmentsupport/WorkSchemesAndProgrammes/DG_ 4000347).Planning to return to work

Discuss with your employer how they, and you, will manage helping you to return to work.

If you and your employer agree to formally let other people know about your disability (which may be a ‘hidden’ disability such as diabetes or a mental health condition) you should sign a consent form that gives your employer permission to tell one or more named individual(s). This is to comply with the Data Protection Act.

Performance records

If you have to take time off for disability-related sick leave, it is good practice for your employer to record it separately from any sickness absences that are not related to your disability.

If you are away from work because you are waiting for your employer to put reasonable adjustments in place, or for training in their use, this should not be recorded as an ‘absence from work’.

Leaving work

An employer may be able to dismiss you if your disability means it is impossible for you to carry out the main parts of your job, even if all reasonable adjustments were put in place. This may include considering whether you could carry out another suitable job. For example, it may not be possible to move you into another role in an organisation if it is a small one, and therefore dismissing you may be fair.

If an employer is considering making people redundant, the reasons for selecting people for redundancy should not discriminate against disabled people. For example, having to work flexible hours or taking time off for disability-related sickness should not be a reason.

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