The Guardian recently reported on data from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons which reveals that the rate of cosmetic operations in the UK has fallen since 2015. With many employers arguing that aesthetical surgery should not be treated as a regular sickness absence, how should employers deal with employees still choosing to go under the knife?

Medical information 

To start with, an employer may not always be clear on what procedure an employee is undergoing or the reasons for it. An employer can ask for this information but an employee’s medical information is highly confidential and, if necessary, an employer will need the employee’s consent to access further information. 

Protected rights

In addition, an employer should tread with caution in assessing whether a procedure, which might look like an elective one, is in fact one which has been medically advised or which is related to a disability. For example, a breast augmentation following cancer treatment or cosmetic procedures that are medically advised on mental health grounds might involve disability issues. Special rules also apply for medical procedures for transgender employees for example.  

Whilst employer policies may help in providing guidance on how they treat cosmetic surgery, the circumstances of each case should be carefully considered. 

Sick pay

Generally, an employee has the right to choose whether to take annual leave rather than sick leave. However, employers often argue that if an employee had the procedure for purely cosmetic reasons, the employee should take annual leave instead of sick leave and pay. Ultimately, however, if the employee has been signed off by their doctor as unfit for work then an employer may have limited options to withhold any statutory sick pay and leave.

Clearly worded policies and/or contracts can assist an employer to clarify whether contractual sick pay (as opposed to statutory sick pay) will be payable for cosmetic procedures. 

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