Employees that are unwilling or unable to attend a disciplinary hearing is a common workplace occurrence.

However, when the employee is unable to attend due to ill-health, namely stress, it can make the situation slightly more complicated.

It can be difficult to know what to do when an employee goes off with stress before a disciplinary hearing. 

Employees generally believe if they are signed off sick, they can avoid disciplinary proceedings. However, this is not necessarily the case.

The employer must balance the need for the matter to be resolved quickly and fairly, against the need that the employee must be given a genuine opportunity to attend the hearing.

If it is short-term

If it looks like the absence will be short-term, then the best option to consider will be postponing the meeting until the employee can attend.

What about Long-Term Absence?

If it appears that the absence may be long-term, it is best practice to consult with an Occupational Health Specialist.

You'll need to obtain a medical report; this will give you an expert opinion on whether the employee is fit to attend the meeting.

Questions you may want to ask Occupational Health may include:

  • Does the employee have the capacity to understand the allegation?
  • Are they well enough to respond to the allegation?
  • Is the employee capable of putting their explanation in writing?

You can offer alternatives to the employee, such as a telephone hearing, a hearing at a neutral place or allowing the employee to put their submissions in writing.

If the employee refuses to cooperate, or Occupational Health advise that the employee will not be able to attend, you can still have the hearing in the employee’s absence.

This is based on the fact that it is not appropriate to have this matter lingering when the employee should be focusing on their health.

Proceeding In The Employee’s Absence

If an employee continues to be unavailable to engage in the process in any way, then as an employer, you should determine whether or not you want to continue with the procedure in the employee’s absence.

Careful consideration must be given to:

  • The importance of having the matter resolved;
  • The impact on the employee in question;
  • The potential impact on the business with the employee’s continued absence.

Any employment tribunal, in the case of unfair dismissal, would require a detailed explanation as to why the hearing went ahead in the employee’s absence.

It would help if you only proceeded in their absence when there is clear evidence that the employee cannot reasonably attend.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.