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Letter to sick employee led to trouble

Private Medicine Intermediaries v Hodkinson

Dealing with employees who are on sick leave presents a host of potential pitfalls for employers. In this case, getting things wrong resulted in constructive dismissal.

Ms Hodkinson was disabled; she had thyroid dysfunction and cardiac arrhythmia. She went on sick leave with what she said was depression and anxiety caused by bullying and intimidation by managers in the business. While she was off work, the employer wrote to her. The letter proposed a meeting. It also set out some areas of concern that the employer wanted to discuss with her. These were not serious or pressing issues.

Ms Hodkinson resigned, claiming that the employer had breached the implied term of trust and confidence and that she considered herself to have been unfairly constructively dismissed. She also claimed, alongside some other disability-related claims, that the correspondence amounted to harassment.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld the tribunal’s constructive dismissal finding. The employee was ill, and the letter did not need to be sent. But this didn’t amount to harassment. It hadn’t been established that the employer’s action in sending the letter related to her disability, or that it created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her.

This shouldn’t stop you from communicating with employees who are on sick leave – in fact, it’s important to stay in touch. But make sure that you judge each communication carefully. If something can wait, hold off until the employee is better.