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What should happen if you are ill during the disciplinary process?

Published 13 June 2022

Facing disciplinary action can make anyone feel sick and being unwell and unable to participate in the process can leave you fearing the worst.

In answer to the question: can you go off sick during the disciplinary process? The answer is, yes.

If ill health means you are unable to cooperate with your employer’s disciplinary process, you should inform your workplace immediately.

Your normal procedures for reporting and evidencing ill health should be followed.

If you are sick for seven days or less, you do not need to give your employer a fit note (sometimes called a ‘sick note’) or other proof of sickness from a medical professional [1 cited 13.6.22]

You must give your employer a doctor’s ‘fit note’ if you are ill for more than seven days in a row. This includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays.

If  you are unwell during the disciplinary investigation stage, then your employer is likely to continue to establish the facts of a case in your absence. Witness statements may still be sought and collected from relevant individuals and evidence gathered.

During the investigation stage your employer may wish to hold an investigation meeting with you, which is also known as a fact-finding meeting.

The meeting is to determine if there is a disciplinary case for you to answer [2 cited 13.6.22]

There is no requirement for your employer to hold an investigation meeting with you. If such a meeting is arranged and you are unwell and unable to attend, then your employer can opt to rearrange the meeting, or it may reach a decision to initiate formal disciplinary action on the evidence available.

Subsequently you may be unwell and unfit to attend a formal disciplinary hearing [3 cited 13.6.22]. Your employer is expected to handle this situation with much more care and consideration for your illness.

Before proceeding with a disciplinary hearing in your absence, your employer should make reasonable attempts to establish your actual fitness to attend a hearing.

If it goes ahead in your absence resulting in dismissal, then depending on the circumstances you could make a claim for unfair dismissal. [4 cited 13.6.22]

Should your illness be caused by a disability, and the reason you cannot attend a direct result of it, proceeding with the hearing and dismissal in your absence could amount to disability discrimination [5 cited 13.6.22]

If your illness is short-term there is a reasonable expectation your employer will postpone the hearing until a time when you are well enough to attend.

However, should your illness be long-term, your employer will have to consider how reasonable it is to delay the process and for how long.

In such circumstances it is vital to establish your fitness to take part in a formal hearing.

You should comply, to the absolute best of your ability, with any reasonable request that will help your employer to ascertain your fitness to take part in a formal disciplinary hearing.

It is likely you will be asked to attend an occupational health assessment [6 cited 13.6.22]. As part of such an assessment specific questions may be asked about your fitness to attend a disciplinary meeting and about any reasonable adjustments that can be made to enable you to do so

Adjustments could include, holding the hearing in a location away from the office or at your home, allowing you to be accompanied by a relative or friend at the meeting, ensuring you can take regular breaks or allowing you to submit your case in writing.

It will only ever be reasonable for a disciplinary hearing to go ahead when you are ill and in your absence, in exceptional circumstances.

If you believe you have been treated unfairly as a result of illness during the disciplinary process you should raise a formal grievance with your employer [7 cited 13.6.22]

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