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Can I dismiss an employee who refuses to return to work?

Potentially. The first question is why the person is not able to return, as their individual circumstances will be very relevant in terms of whether they can be safely dismissed.

Employers should ask themselves 2 questions in this situation:

  1. Have I done everything I am required to do in order to make the workplace safe for the individual to return; and
  2. Is what the employee saying reasonable?

If the answer to question 1. is no then a dismissal is unlikely to be fair. However, even if the answer to question 1. is yes, then there is still question 2. to address. If the employee has reasonable grounds as to why they are unable to return to work, e.g. due to health issues, childcare responsibilities etc then the dismissal is unlikely to be fair. It is only if you can answer yes to question 1. and no to question 2. that you can have some confidence in the potential safety of the dismissal.

Dismissals based on objections to returning to work on health and safety grounds will very often be risky and are highly fact specific, therefore please contact one of the employment team for further advice prior to dismissal.