As the pandemic has progressed, the impacts of the last 18 months are beginning to hit home. Peninsula's William Griffiths offers advice on supporting employees with absence and managing resignations.

As in many other sectors, dental employees' priorities have changed to place a greater emphasis on having an effective work-life balance, with many more requesting flexible working arrangements and disconnecting from the workplace at the end of shifts.

Employers can refuse flexible working requests (provided they outline one of the eight fair reasons to do so - see below), and the lack of options available to employees has led to an increase in resignations.

It's no secret that organisations across the UK have faced difficulties with recruitment and retention, but if other practices are offering enhanced contractual benefits, such as flexibility with working days and start/finish times, there is an increased pull for employees to "jump ship."

The eight fair reasons for refusing flexible working requests

  • The burden of additional costs
  • An inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Detrimental impact on performance
  • Detrimental impact on ability to meet customer demand
  • Insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes to the business

Should I stay or should I go?

As such, Peninsula can provide detailed advice on how this can be avoided, with the key recommendation being to conduct stay interviews with all staff members.

Exit interviews are commonplace amongst most UK workforces, to determine what prompted an employee to leave and to provide a final chance to persuade them to stay. But the usefulness of the information gained is diminished by the person's impeding departure; it's too late to solve problems and retain valuable employees.

Therefore, a stay interview gives organisations the opportunity to assess what improvements can be made now, to avoid further resignations. Identifying issues and concerns early, and taking action on them, contributes towards long-term retention, increased motivation and morale, improved productivity and overall success for both the business and its people.

In some situations, resignations are inevitable, and in these cases practices should consider ways to make employees' departures as smooth as possible. This may involve an effective handover process, reviewing final pay rates and remaining holiday allowance, compiling a reference and completing the aforementioned exit interview. Doing so allows employees to leave on good terms and minimises any potential risks of constructive dismissal or wrongful dismissal claims.

Tax and accountancy benefit for DDU members

Health and wellbeing

Similarly, the pandemic has had devastating impacts on employees' physical and mental health. This has understandably led to increased absence levels and greater struggles to manage the impact such absences have on practices.

Multiple periods of absences for unrelated conditions may be managed through the disciplinary process, but to avoid this continuing, it's important for employers to investigate the reasons for absences and considering ways to support staff.

Where the reason for the absence is related to an underlying health condition, managers must remember that employees are protected against detriment or dismissal under the Equality Act 2010, so may be able to raise claims for disability discrimination. In addition, failure to adequately support employees' wellbeing can detrimentally impact the employment relationship and breakdown the implied term of trust and confidence.

This being said, employees have an equal responsibility to make their managers aware of any health struggles, to allow them the opportunity to make reasonable adjustments. Without knowing that an employee is experiencing difficulties, practices are limited in what they can do to help them, so it's important to encourage these conversations and foster an environment that allows them to take place.

Failure to adequately support employees' wellbeing can detrimentally impact the employment relationship...

Long-term absence

Employers must also consider ways to effectively manage any periods of long-term sickness - generally seen as lasting four weeks or more.

Managers should first hold an informal welfare meeting with the affected employee, to understand more about the reason for their absence, how this impacts them, what medical advice they have received and their estimated return to work dates.

From here, managers can assess whether it's necessary to recruit temporary staff to cover the absentee, as well as consider obtaining a medical report. With the employee's consent, these reports can be provided by the employee's GP or through an occupational health assessment, and gives professional recommendations as to what adjustments may be beneficial and whether a return to work in the near future is feasible. Following this, a formal medical capability meeting should be held to discuss the contents of the report and get the employee's opinion.

Point of no return

In most cases, employees are supported to return to work through effective, reasonable adjustments, which could include phased returns, amended duties and adaptive equipment. This provides a win-win situation for both the practice and the staff member.

However, on rare occasions, it is possible to fairly dismiss an employee under medical grounds if a return to work in the near future is not likely, and there is nothing the practice can do to try and facilitate this.

It's important to note that a dismissal should only be considered after exhausting all possible reasonable adjustments and alternative employment options, and the employee will remain entitled to their contractual notice period and accrued holiday entitlement.

This page was correct at publication on 26/01/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.