Long-term sickness absence: When to conduct an informal welfare meeting

Sickness absence is an unavoidable occurrence that all employers will experience at one stage or another.

Long-term sickness absence, however, is the term used when an employee is absent for four or more weeks. This kind of absence can pose different challenges for employers…

Impact of long-term sickness absence on business operations

Having an employee out of work with no set return date can impact the daily operations of the business and may require alternative arrangements to be made. This can result in reduced efficiency and steep cost implications for employers.

After all, you still need your business to operate efficiently without placing too much burden on your employees to pick up the slack.

The informal welfare meeting

The most important step when exploring an employee’s absence is to have an ‘informal welfare meeting’. Generally, a first welfare meeting should take place approximately four weeks after the employee is absent. That said, it can be good practice to have this meeting earlier, at around two weeks, where a work-related cause of the absence is cited.

This is a very useful approach and can prove to be a valuable tool when an employee has been out of work for four or more weeks on certified sick leave. An informal welfare meeting is a practical way to ensure that communication is maintained, clarify the nature of the employee’s incapacity, and confirm how long they’re likely to be absent from work. There are key aspects that this meeting should cover:

  • The nature of the employee’s absence.
  • What treatment has been recommended by their medical professional.
  • If the medical professional has recommended any accommodations for you to consider when facilitating their return to work.
  • What the employee’s feelings are about returning to work.
  • When they feel they will be able to return to work.

Ensure that this meeting is organised to be held in a private place. Employees are often absent from work due to illness and may be sensitive to this matter. By conducting the welfare meeting in private, you’ll be demonstrating your consideration for their situation and protecting their right to privacy.

Offer methods of support in the meeting, such as reassuring the employee that they’re missed at work. Also, assure them that you’ll consider any reasonable requirements that may facilitate their return to work

Article: The persistent problem that is long-term sick leave

After the informal welfare meeting

It’s advisable to end this meeting by agreeing on another meeting. By doing this, you’ll ensure that communication between you and the employee is maintained.

Following on from the informal welfare meeting, you may also decide that it’s necessary to take other measures such as requesting an employee’s medical records. Supporting employees can help facilitate an accelerated and successful return to work.

Our HR consultants can help with long-term sickness absence

For help managing a long-term sickness absence, contact one of our HR consultants today for support on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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Nora Cashe


Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

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With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.