Can Your Employer Fire You for Being Sick?

Linkilaw Business Structures

“Surely not”, you may have muttered under your breath upon reading the title of this post. Assuming you can’t be dismissed from your workplace solely because of your illness is logical for most people; but sadly, it is also incorrect.


What does the law say?


The truth is, UK law allows the employer to dismiss you “if you have a persistent or long-term illness that makes it impossible for you to do your job.” Basically, what is said here is that you cannot be fired because you’re ill, but because the illness is preventing you from honoring your side of the employment contract. Whichever way one puts it, the fact remains you can lose your job if you get sick, and your employer has not done anything unlawful by sending you home for good. However, there are certain steps you can take, even in this seemingly stalemate position.

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So, what can you do?


First and foremost, the best thing to do when you’re in such a vulnerable place is to learn your rights. Arm yourself with knowledge! That includes consulting the employment law as well as any employee manuals / sickness policies that might be in place in your workplace.

The government states that before taking any action, your employer should:


  • Look for ways to support you – eg considering whether the job itself is making you sick and needs changing.
  • Give you reasonable time to recover from your illness.


If you have a disability, which may include long-term illness, your employer also has a legal duty to support disability in the workplace, so make sure the employer is well-informed about your condition and the legal requirement to support you. The law also states that fair dismissal is possible in the case of frequent short-term absences, too – even if any of these particular absences are not long enough to justify dismissal on its own. Check the sickness absence policy of your employer to see if you’re not on the verge of unwillingly crossing a line.

If your illness allows you to work, albeit with certain adjustments, arrange for a conversation with your employer, line manager or HR manager in which you will make sure they are aware of your determination to keep working, as well as the necessary modifications that will have to come from their side.  


What if the employer does not or cannot meet you halfway?


However, the catch is contained in whether or not the employer has had the ability to support you in a way that is reasonable;  that is, to make “reasonable adjustments” to the content and organisation of the work. To assess whether the employer has treated you fairly and explored all the alternatives, the Employment Tribunal normally asks them some of the following questions:


“How important is the employee to your business? What is the impact of their absence? How long has he or she been an employee? Is all their medical evidence complete, accurate and up-to-date? What are the predicted costs of the employee’s continuing absence? What is the predicted impact of their absence? Have you considered other options, like relocating them to another office or switching them to a more suitable position?”


Upon receiving a complete picture, if the Tribunal decides that the employer hasn’t had the ability to reasonably support you and has followed a fair dismissal procedure, the dismissal becomes entirely lawful, and there’s nothing else you can do but start looking for another job.

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End note


Do you suspect your employer has let you off unfairly due to your illness? Could they have done more to support you or created a suitable working place for you? Don’t cross your hands or fall into bitterness – we can help you turn this around! Get in touch with us for a free quote and briefly describe your case, and we will find you some of the brightest and most competent lawyers that can help you get your job back.