Despite the ability to take long-term sick leave, when facing a long-term illness, it is common for employees in New Zealand to be concerned about not just their health, but their ability to work and the chance of finding employment in the future. Likewise, employers have to keep the business running and decide how long to keep the position open for an employee with a long-term illness or even one who has taken long-term sick leave.
It can be difficult to manage a business when an employee is away from work because of long-term illness or injury.. If the employee is not able to fulfill their role, there needs to be a discussion on whether to keep the position open – and for how long – and if it is reasonable to end their employment.
Open communication is the best way to find out:
These questions should be asked in a respectful, supportive manner and only relate to the employee’s ability to fulfill their role. Employees should not be under the impression they are being disciplined or discriminated against.
For employees, it is important to be upfront about their illness and explain how it may impact their ability to work. This may be confronting at first, but this information can help employers look for alternative roles or positions that may be more suitable for the employee.
An employee can refuse to provide medical information if an employer asks for it – even if it is part of their employment agreement.
Take reasonable steps to allow the employee to recover from their long-term illness:
If an employer has good reason to believe the employee is not able to do their job and the position cannot be left open, they may be able to end the employment on reasonable grounds.
To ensure the dismissal process is fair and reasonable, employers should consider:
There are two ways to end an employment agreement for someone with a long-term illness: medical retirement and dismissal for medical incapacity.
Medical retirement allows an employee to leave the organisation and look for work that is more accommodating for their illness or injury. This should be the first viable option for employers before resorting to dismissal for medical incapacity.
When dismissing an employee for medical incapacity, it is important to remember that the process can take several weeks or months. It also requires attending a number of meetings and providing documents to ensure that both parties have the chance to present evidence and any possible alternatives to dismissal.
For advice on how to manage long-term sick leave in NZ, contact Employsure on 0800 675 700.