There are a lot of myths about sickness absence.One of the most common is the idea that an employee who is signed off sick is unfit to attend any meeting.
Especially if they have been signed off for “stress at work”.
This excuse is often trotted out by sick employees to have been invited to a disciplinary meeting, usually as a way to stall or upset the process.
When an employee is signed off sick, this means that their GP considers them “unfit for work”, which means they are unable to carry out their normal duties.
However, in almost all cases, this DOES NOT mean that they are unfit to attend ANY type of meeting whatsoever – even if they try to convince you that this is the case.
Although you should show flexibility – e.g. by arranging a meeting or hearing at a time which specifically suits the employee – you should not allow the process to be derailed.
So, when it comes to disciplinary and capability matters, you should point out to the employee that it is usually in everyone’s interest to deal with issues while facts are still fresh in the mind.
Furthermore, where an employee has been signed off sick with stress or stress at work – popular choices when there’s a hint of a disciplinary meeting – you should explain that resolving the matter could remove the cause of the stress – after all, the employee may actually have no case to answer.
What do you do if a sick employee repeatedly insists that they are unfit to attend a disciplinary hearing?
Postpone it temporarily and ask them to produce medical evidence in the form of a supporting letter from their GP.
Don’t allow it to drag on – insist that this letter is with you within at least 5 working days.
If it isn’t, and there’s no good reason for this, rearrange the meeting and advise the employee that you reserve the right to go ahead and make a decision if they don’t attend.
If they say that they are unable to come in to work for a meeting because the medication they are on stops them driving, then suggest a meeting at a neutral site close to their home, where they could just walk to the meeting.
Naturally each situation must be dealt with on a case by case basis, and where there are clear and obvious reasons why an employee cannot attend – e.g. undergoing hospital treatment – you should show flexibility, in case their sickness could be classed as a disability.
But remember, you’re not over a barrel in these cases – if you need to know more, just hit reply…
PS. Stress at work is definitely NOT a disability – it’s situation specific and a reaction to an “adverse life situation” (Employment Appeals Tribunal 2017).