Are ‘light duties’ the easy way out?

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 4, 2023 10:22

If an employee suffers a health problem that affects their work then having a plan in place to deal with the issue is more beneficial that just putting them on ‘light duties’ and hoping the situation gets better, advises Carolyne Wahlen from HR and employment law expert Golf HR.

Worrying questions – in the world of HR they’re as regular as night and day.

And one such question posed to me by a club the other day is one well worth highlighting, answering properly and ensuring that if you ever have to ask the same question, you won’t make the same – frankly colossal – mistake this club made.

Here’s the question: “We’ve had a greenkeeper on light duties since the beginning of November last year because he has shoulder problems. When can we reduce his salary?”

I almost fell off my chair – I’m no advocate for greed, but still, I couldn’t quite believe that they’d unquestioningly continued to pay someone a full-time salary for a part-time role.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, they hadn’t gone to the GP to clarify anything – this arrangement was entirely based on the ‘fit note’, which as we all know is brief to the point of being unusable.

Plus, they hadn’t put a deadline on this understanding, so there was no set time to review the situation and suggest any changes.

Why hadn’t they done any of this?

Simple: they didn’t think they could, and they were afraid to ask.

Had they asked, they would have been able to save a minimum of five months’ salary.

So in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what should be done in the ‘light duties’ scenario:

• If your employee is off sick, make sure you get fit notes to cover all the absence. No fit note, no sick pay – I tend to find that focuses the mind wonderfully!

• If they then come back to work with a fit note stating that they are okay for light duties you need to:

• Ask them for permission to get a GP’s report on what they can and can’t do

• Once they have given permission, write a formal letter giving details of what the employee is usually required to do and asking if that would be okay

• In parallel to the GP’s report request (which can take several weeks) you need to speak with the employee to discuss immediately what their tasks will be while they are on light duties

• You would also discuss that as they are not working at 100 percent the salary will reduce by, for example 25 percent – for the time they are on light duties. This may be easier to understand if you just have them working fewer hours a day

• Put a deadline on the situation for review, at the latest a month later

• Even better, suggest a phased return, so that they are at, for example 50 percent working first week, then 60 percent, then 70 percent and so on. Then you’ll be able to see where the problems occur

• With a phased return, it is best to do a few hours a day, every day, rather than them trying to do three full days instead of five

• If there is no sign that they will ever get back to 100 percent, despite phased return and support, then you will need to have a chat with them about the options, which could be staying at reduced duties and pay (if the club can afford it), moving to a different role altogether in the club (such as bar staff) or leaving the club for Some Other Substantial Reason (we can help you with this).

What about disability discrimination?

Good question: there is a danger regarding possible disability discrimination, which is why we highly recommend dealing with each situation on a case-by-case basis.

If you have a clause in your contract stating you will dismiss if sickness absence is unacceptable, remove it and certainly don’t refer to it.

We can dismiss if we need to, but a few hoops must be jumped through first!

So, with the greenkeeper who was on light duties the club should have:

• Immediately requested a GP’s report at the beginning of November. This would have been back by Christmas

• While waiting for the report, sat down with the employee and agreed with him what he could and couldn’t do. They should also have agreed the reduced salary at that stage

• When the GP’s report came back, meet with the employee to agree a phased increase in tasks to get them back up to 100 percent over the next month. All the time paying them less than 100 percent if that is not what they are doing

• Set a deadline for the employee to be back at 100 percent and review on a weekly basis

• If the employee was not showing signs of being able to get back to 100 percent by the deadline, have a Some Other Substantial Reason meeting with him to discuss options of continuing on reduced salary, other roles in the club or dismissal. This meeting would be formal and he would be allowed to bring someone with him

• By the end of March there would have been clarity about things, rather than asking at the end of April “what can we do?”

We are ALWAYS able to help with long term illness, light duties and phased returns.

Got a similar issue? Deal with it now, don’t let it drag on for months, and save your club some money…

For more information, tel 01491 598 700 or visit


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 4, 2023 10:22
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