What Should HR Do to Employees Who Take Long-Term Illness Absence?

January 23, 20202:20 pm1246 views
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According to Employment Law in Singapore, employees are granted up to 14 days of paid outpatient sick leave and 60 days of paid hospitalisation leave – with 60 days of hospitalisation leave includes the 14 days paid outpatient sick entitlement. However, when employees have taken all the paid sick leave but still unable to perform their tasks and fail to show up at work, should HR put the said employees in termination due to long-term illness absence or should HR wait until the employees gain full recovery? 

See also: The Most Costly Business Loss: PRESENTEEISM

It is obvious that a business will suffer from productivity loss without the presence of its staff. According to Virgin research, absenteeism can cost an employer up to US$150 billion per year, while asking employees to come to work while still being ill can cost an employer as much as US$1,500 billion per year. 


So, should you just terminate employees who take long-term illness absence? 

Perhaps, no. MOM stated that HR leaders cannot simply terminate employees for taking sick leave. But instead, an employer should treat sick employees with compassion. Termination of employment is a very serious matter which has wide-ranging implications for an employee, especially when the employees are in ill conditions. 

There are some exceptions, however. Since retaining sick employees who cannot perform their tasks for a long time can eventually decrease a company’s morale and productivity, MOM suggested that termination can be done very carefully with some requirements. First, the termination must be based on relevant and objective criteria. Second, the employer can terminate ill employees after giving due notice or pay in lieu of notice. 

Design company policy that focuses on long-term illness absence 

To address this issue, HR should adopt an illness policy that focuses on long-term sickness absence to avoid legal issues. The policy can also help HR inform the right announcement to employees and other stakeholders when the same issue happened again in the future. 

Your long-term sickness policy should be created to help clarify the need for the following points for employers: 

  • to balance between giving an employee the time to recover from an illness which might be very slow;
  • to minimise the damage to efficiency and productivity that can be caused by an employee being off work indefinitely;
  • to help HR make a clear final decision or as a consideration for dismissing an employee on long-term sick leave; 
  • to set out what counts as a long-term sickness absence;
  • to set expectations for managers and employees in relation to long-term sickness absence.  

It should be noted that the policy must include a statement of “the EMPLOYER will proceed the above issue only after the EMPLOYER has made all reasonable attempts to support employees return to work”.

In addition to the policy, HR should re-learn workplace culture and practices to improve the identification and management of sickness. It is an employer’s interest to guard against increased presenteeism and ensure that visible systems and mechanisms are in place to identify health problems as early as possible, as well as ensure affected employees receive appropriate support. 

Therefore, open dialogue of different health conditions should be conducted and HR should remove all the stigma. Anti-stigma campaigns, health, wellbeing awareness training for line managers and leaders have an important role to play as well here. 

Read also: Nicer Employees Afflict More to Mental Health Illness