If you have an employee who is on long term sickness absence the first and more important thing is to think disability. An employee who is absent for a long time may well meet the legal definition of disability and therefore it is important to tread carefully in order to avoid a claim of discrimination.
Provided that you act sensitively and not too hastily, it is possible to manage a situation where you have an employee on long term sick.
Make sure that you get appropriate information from a medical professional, whether it’s your own occupational health provider or the employee’s GP or consultant. Focus on what the employee can and can’t do and whether there are any adjustments that you could or should be making to enable them to return to work.
At the end of the day, if there are no adjustments that can be made and the employee is still unable to return to work, a dismissal may be fair, provided that you have taken your time and followed a proper procedure.
If you are considering dismissing an employee who may have a disability, please do take advice: getting it wrong will almost always lead to a tribunal.