Example: Impaired work ability as grounds for dismissal

Customer story

“The HR rep told me I wasn’t entitled to pay during the notice period”

Ilpo, 38, mechanical fitter

A few years ago, I started getting fractures and after several examinations, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. I was placed on sick leave and the doctors began looking for suitable medication for me. My employer, who I had worked for for 16 years, suggested that I go into retraining in order to learn a job that my illness wouldn’t prevent.

I enrolled in a school but when my studies started, I was told by my employer that they were letting me go. The HR representative told me I wasn’t entitled to pay during the notice period since I was enrolled in training that was covered by insurance. They believed that letting me go was possible as the occupational health doctor had given a statement in favour of my dismissal.

I was furious about this because I’d never even met the doctor. I couldn't understand how a doctor with no overall understanding of my situation could give a statement about my health. I went to see my own doctor, who wrote a statement that made it clear that my work ability was impaired. I sent it to my employer but didn't get any response.  After a short while, I received a registered letter containing the notice of termination based on the employer's occupational health doctor's statement. I believe that the employer is violating the law.

My wife has supported me throughout this ordeal, and she also encouraged me to use the YTK Association's Lakikaveri service.

What does Lakikaveri legal service say?

Ilpo's description of the events has several details that need clarifying, which is why we can only give a generic answer for the time being. This is normal at the start of an investigation, and it is important that we review the matter carefully with the employee before making a final assessment.

An illness can be a valid grounds for dismissal if the resulting impairment of work ability is both substantive and so long-term that the employer cannot reasonably be required to continue the employment relationship. When assessing whether there are grounds for dismissal, the employer should be able to provide adequate proof of a loss of work ability. If, for example, two doctor’s statements conflict with each other, the employer may be obligated to obtain further clarification on the matter.

A substantive and sufficiently long-term impairment of work ability may not alone be sufficient grounds for dismissal. Before dismissing an employee, the employer must investigate the possibility of changing or reassigning the employee’s duties or transferring the employee. The employer must seek a solution that is reasonable for both parties and which allows the sick employee to continue in their employment relationship. If necessary, the employee must be trained to new duties, provided that both parties see this as appropriate and reasonable. In Ilpo’s case, these measures were indeed taken.

Regarding the dismissal procedure, the employer’s conduct may have been unlawful if the grounds for dismissal and the alternatives to dismissal were not properly reviewed. According to the Employment Contracts Act, Ilpo should have been given the opportunity to be heard about the reasons for dismissal. In addition, Ilpo would have had the right to bring another person to assist them in the hearing.

When it comes to the notice period, the basic principle is that after terminating the employment contract, the employee’s and employer’s rights and responsibilities continue until the end of the notice period. In other words, the employment relationship is valid normally in all of its aspects. Giving notice of dismissal does not, for example, change the employer’s obligation to pay wages during the notice period. For example, if the employer was not obligated to pay sick pay before giving notice of dismissal, the situation remains the same during the notice period.

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