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Dismissing under Medical Incapacity

Published 10 Nov 2015

A mental health nurse was dismissed by the Wellington District Health Board (WDHB) for medical incapacity following eight and a half months of sick leave due to depression.

A subsequent grievance based on unjustified dismissal brought by the nurse against the WDHB has been rejected by the Employment Court.

It was held that WDHB had acted as a fair and reasonable employer would have done in the given circumstances.

The WDHB had determined what they could and couldn't reasonably accommodate with the Employee's expected period of absence compared with their own business needs, their genuine and reasonable concerns as to their ability to continue shifting resources in order to fill the employee’s position especially heading into the busy Christmas period. The WDHB were deemed to have followed a fair and reasonable process in determining to dismiss the Employee as they had sought advice from a specialist occupational physician who indicated that the employee’s return to work was unlikely.

It was further proven that the WDHB completed a thorough investigation as to whether the employee could return to work, and adequately attempted to engage the employee in this. It was also held that WDHB had fulfilled all of its obligations under its rehabilitation policy and had considered a range of alternatives.

An important point from this case is that an Employer has no obligation to keep a job open indefinitely when an Employee is suffering from a prolonged illness.

For an in-depth guide on terminating under medical incapacity see our eBook guide. This is in the library section of our Employers Toolbox for our members