Careful handling of staff sickness needed by equestrian businesses

8th March 2021

At one time or another, most employers in the equestrian world will face an issue concerning the illness of an employee. The answer to that question might be complicated by the fact that they are self-employed. The time might also come when the business needs to let staff go, something many employers could be thinking about in relation to the eventual end of the furlough scheme.

What are employers’ obligations to sick or injured employees?

The starting point is whether the individual has an underlying health condition which could amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. If they do, the employer cannot treat them less favourably because of their disability and must make any reasonable adjustments that might be needed to assist them return to work and undertake their duties.

What adjustments may be required will vary depending on the circumstances but could cover making a workplace accessible through the use of ramps or tactile paving, through to adjusted duties or working hours. If an employee has been or is likely to be off sick for a significant period of time, the employer could be entitled to terminate their employment and, depending on the circumstances, the employer may need to consult the employee to determine when they are likely to be able to return to work and to consider any alternative work if they are not able to return to their normal job. .

Are businesses required to offer sick pay?

Employers must pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which entitles an employee to £95.85 a week and can be paid for up to 28 weeks. There are certain eligibility criteria that need to be met when it comes to SSP. Whether any further pay is due in addition to SSP will depend on what the contract says.

What support is available if you are self-employed but unable to work due to sickness?

SSP is only available to employees and if someone is genuinely self-employed, they may be entitled to Employment Support Allowance. As with SSP, there are certain eligibility requirements that will need to be met.

What are the employee’s rights if they are no longer able to carry out their role due to sickness or injury?

Inability to undertake the role they were employed to do can be a fair basis to dismiss an employee.

Much will depend on whether the employee meets the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010. If they do, they will be protected from less favourable treatment because of their disability and the employer may have to make reasonable adjustments which could include altering job duties.

Even if not disabled, an employee with more than two years’ service has the right not to be unfairly dismissed and an employer will need to consider when an employee is likely to return and whether any alternative employment may be available. An employee who is not disabled and has less than two years’ service can be dismissed without following any prior process, provided that they are given the correct period of notice under their contract.

What are the employee’s rights if a business or sector becomes no longer viable?

If a business is no longer viable and closes entirely then there will be a redundancy situation and all staff will be entitled to their correct notice period and employees with over two years’ service will also be entitled to a redundancy payment. If the employer is insolvent and cannot pay these sums, employees can recover some or all of the money from the government insolvency fund. If a part of the business is no longer viable but other parts continue, the employer may need to consider whether alternative employment in the continuing parts of the business is available as an alternative to redundancy.