It does seem morally wrong that a person can be dismissed by their employer because of ill health and I hear it time and time again from those that believe that to be the case.  Reading this article where it suggests that it is "unlawful for an employer to sack you because of your health" I am afraid that that is simply not the case.  I am often asked by clients (employers and employees) for advice on this subject and it is never a straightforward issue to advise upon.  

From the employee's point of view, they feel a sense of injustice that they have been unwell or incapable of attending work for whatever reason and have had to take time off work on sickness absence and their employer is taking them down a 'capability' procedure and considering dismissing them where they are examining the extent of the absence and, most importantly, how long the absence is likely to continue into the future. Sometimes, the absence is due to an accident connected with work which makes it all the more difficult.  

From the employer's point of view, they feel that they have have had to 'accommodate' the sickness absence by having to employ others, sometimes additional staff at additional cost, to cover the employee's duties and do not want to allow the situation to go on indefinitely.  They want to know what they can do in such a situation.

Of course the Equality Act requires the employer to make 'reasonable adjustments' in relation to a person who might be deemed to be disabled. However, as that is an issue that is sometimes not determined unless before a Tribunal or by an occupational health expert, it is wise for an employer to treat an employer on long-term sickness as 'disabled' and consider what reasonable adjustments can be made.  

Of course reasonable adjustments are just that - reasonable, and so it follows that if the employer is not reasonably able to make any adjustments that would enable the employee to return to work then they are able to consider whether the employer is likely to be capable of carrying out the terms of his or her contract, within a reasonable period of time.  

These are not decisions that should be taken without a considerable amount of thought. The obvious reason is that the decision might well be challenged in the Employment Tribunal and the other is a moral one, in my view.  Deciding to end a person's employment while they are seriously ill or incapable of attending work for a long period of time, is likely to have a tremendous effect on their wellbeing and possibly their recovery and deserves serious thought and should not be taken without advise.

Another aspect of this issue and perhaps one for another discussion is how employers should deal with long-term conditions in the workplace from both the perspective of an employee and carers. "Over 50% of cancer sufferers survive over 10 years post initial diagnosis. Over 100,000 people per year aged between 20 and 40 are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis."  When you consider these statistics and realise that suffering from these conditions may not result in long-term absences from work, the issue then is how are those suffering from these and other conditions dealt with by employers in the workplace.  We are pleased to be able to offer a half day course on the subject delivered by Catherine Wilson.

Clearly with those statistics, this is an issue that will have to be dealt with in the workplace more often as time goes by and medical intervention means we are living, or should I say surviving, longer!