Legal position

If an employee is suffering from chronic ill health, it is very important that the practice determines whether or not the employee is disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

An employee is disabled, for the purposes of the Act, if their illness has a substantial, long-term and adverse effect on their ability to undertake normal day-to-day activities.

If the employee is disabled, the practice has a duty under the Disability Discrimination Act to make reasonable adjustments to premises and working practices. If the practice fails to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee, they could take a claim of disability discrimination to an employment tribunal.

However, it may be that the continued employment of an employee with an illness – which results in long-term absence or persistent short-term absences –   is no longer feasible because there are no reasonable adjustments that can be made to allow the employee to continue working.

In this case, it may be fair for the practice to dismiss the employee, even if he or she is disabled.

Long-term sickness and dismissal

An employee's inability to do their job – because of long-term sick leave – can be a potentially fair reason for dismissal.As a duty of care to the employee, the practice should:

   consult the employee and find out as much as possible about their condition and the likely timescale for their recovery

   obtain medical reports from the employees GP and /or an Occupational Health Report, and then hold a meeting to discuss the content of the report

   consider all the alternatives to dismissal, such as changing the employee's role or hours of work.

If there is no suitable alternative employment, the practice must follow the statutory disciplinary/dismissal procedure.

If the employee who is subject to the procedure is disabled, the practice may also have to make further reasonable adjustments to allow for their needs.

Alternatives to dismissal on grounds of ill health

The practice may be able to make changes so that it can keep an employee who has a long-term illness or disability. It is good practice to ask the employee what reasonable adjustments might help them to remain in work.

The practice could consider:

   reorganising the work or redesigning the job

   reallocating certain non-core duties to other workers, or a transfer to a job or location with easier access

   offering retraining

   altering their hours of work

   eliminating night-shift work

   offering home working, if appropriate

   making adaptations to equipment or furniture.

The practice could also think about offering the employee:

   medical help, such as physiotherapy

   practical help and support, such as transport to work

   specialist help, such as internal or external counselling

Early retirement is another option; but this can not be forced on an employee. 

For further support with this or any other HR issue BVNA members can call the BVNA IRS Helpline on 01822 870270


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons] Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 27 • February 2012 • Veterinary Nursing Journal