With the December chill in the air, many of us are taking to our beds for a few sick days. For many this is flu season and the more vulnerable among us will have to take time off work. In the chemists this time of year there is every kind of nose spray and cough mixture to be had. Apart from flu which should be easy enough to overcome with a weeks bed rest, what are your rights when it comes to returning to work after a more serious ailment like a permanent injury or disability?
There are legal requirements that employers should adhere to when their employees return to work after a sickness absence or employees who have a sickness related disability. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, if an employee returns to work and has become more vulnerable to injury, illness or disability, then the employer must make a reasonable effort to protect the employee. There are duties on the employee to make every possible effort to manage their return to work. It is advised that the employee keeps in regular contact with their employer/trade union representative so they are kept in the loop and can give updates on the progress of their health to their employer. It is not in the best interest of the organization for sick people to come back to work if they are not fully recovered. This may pose health and safety risks to themselves and others working around them. If there is an occupational health nurse or doctor on site the employee should contact them. It is advisable for employers to monitor sickness absences and to investigate if this is connected with work. Modified work adjustments may need to be made. The employee should discuss with their doctor any work adjustments needed when they return to work or any effects of medication. These should be relayed to the employer who should do their best to made adjustments. Work adjustments may include starting the employee on shorter hours then increasing slowly, changing or adapting the work equipment and reducing the initial workload. The employee should clearly understand how such work adjustments will affect their pay.
The employer needs to consider whether existing health and safety control measures will still protect the employee after they return to work and if changes need to be made. If an employee has become disabled due to a sickness then specialist advice may be needed to advise the employer about the employee’s present condition and what to do. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) requires the employer to make reasonable adjustments to ensure employees who are disabled can carry out their job in a comfortable and non-threatening way. If an employee has a disability it doesn’t mean that they pose an additional risk to health and safety. Employees have also got rights under Employment Law. The Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002 puts responsibilities on employers to ensure that stairs, passageways, doors, lavatories and work stations are suitably arranged to take account of disabled workers’ needs.
Being at work is necessary for good health, self-esteem, social connections and quality of life. Managing sick absences and subsequent returns helps keep this life balance in order.