Employee benefits consultants are warning businesses they need to have adequate staff absent systems in place, in order to benefit from additional government help with coronavirus.
In the Budget, the chancellor announced that small and medium sized businesses — those employing less than 250 people — will be able to reclaim the costs of statutory sick pay, for any absences caused by Covid-19. This will also apply to those who are self-isolating after coming into contact with those with this infection, even if they do not go on to develop symptoms.
This statutory sick pay will be available from the first day of absence, usually it is only payable from the third day of leave. These payments will be made for a maximum of 14 days. In addition staff will not need a doctors note to claim this payment, but will be able to the get the correct certification from calling the 111 helpline.
While these measures have been welcomed by many small businesses, Aon’s head of health management Charles Alberts says this may present a challenge when it comes to business operations, and managing absence records.
He says: “It is projected that up to one in five people could be off work at any one time due to coronavirus. From an employers’ perspective this presents a range of challenges.
“As a minimum employers will need a system in place to identify how many people are off due to Covid-19 and their expected return date.” As he points out this group needs to be identified as separate from any other staff absences.
“Employers need to consider how they’ll record all absences, who will do so, where this data will be stored and how accessible it will be to HR and other stakeholders. Employers need to ensure timely and accurate recording of this information, and how reliable the data will be for the different statutory sick pay rules that apply.”
He adds: “These measures further illustrate the case for a proactive approach to absence management. No matter what size the business, unplanned absences have a detrimental impact and therefore there is an imperative to manage all cases proactively to minimise the impact.”
Elsewhere the Group Risk Development (Grid) also welcomed a range of proposals introduced in the Budget.
The trade body pointed out that proposals in the Budget recognised the role of employers in dealing with those suffering from a range of ill health issues, including mental health – and this had been reflected in tax changes.
Grid spokesperson Katharine Moxham says: “We welcome the government’s extension of the scope of non-taxable counselling to include related medical treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as part of an employer’s welfare counselling services.
“The role of employers in supporting those dealing with mental ill health issues has been seen as crucial and, quite rightly, should be encouraged, rather than penalised through the tax system.
“Income protection insurance through the workplace has been recognised as a product that works well for employers to enable them to provide a financial safety net and to help support people suffering from mental ill health.
“Mental health issues accounted for 24 per cent of all group income protection claims last year. As an industry, we know how vital early intervention is in supporting people through mental ill health and moving them towards recovery and back into work, so it’s really positive to see that government taking steps towards helping employers better achieve this.”