The Department of Work and Pensions has launched a new health in the workplace report, which contains a number of recommendations to reduce ill-health related job losses.
The DWP says that despite a record number of people being in work, many disabled people, and those with mental health conditions are often unable to realise their potential. Latest figures show around 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition fall out of work every year.
There is a case for employers to do more to support their employees who are managing health conditions, or who are experiencing a period of sickness absence. In return, the government can provide more help for employers, recognising the differences in employers’ capacity and capability to act.
The government says this it wants to work with employers to make the workplace more accessible and flexible.
The report says: “To achieve this, we are proposing to improve the information and advice we provide to employers; improve the occupational health market and look at what financial support government could provide to improve access to occupational health for smaller businesses.”
It points out that many employers already see the case for investing in the health and wellbeing of their workforce. However, evidence shows there are marked differences in large and small employers’ ability and capacity to act.
As well as providing more support for smaller business, the report also suggests a change to the Equality Act 2010. This currently sets out an employers duty to provide reaonsable adjustments for disabled employees. However the DWP notes there are some employees who miss out because they do not meet the definition of disabled.
As a result it is considering introducing a new more general right to request workpalce modification on health grounds.
The government is also proposing changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which it says does not reflect more flexible working practices.
Changes proposed include amending the rules to enable an employee reutrning form a period fo sickness to have a flexible phased return to work.
It also includes extending protection to those earning less than the Lower Earning Limit (currently £118 a week). The Government also suggests it could increase fines for employers who do not make these statutory payments.
To help smaller businesses the DWP is says it is “interested” in how a rebate of SSP might work and whether this would support greater employer action in helping employees return to work.
As part of a range of measures designed to help SMEs, the government is also seeking views on ways to reduce the costs of occupational health services for smaller businesses, through potential co-funding options.
It points out smaller employers are five times less likely to invest in OH services than large employers.
The report also notes: “Once an employee goes on sickness absence, evidence shows that early and sustained support by their employer is important. There is evidence to suggest that some individuals experiencing ill health may be dismissed before their employer takes steps to reintegrate them.
“The government believes there is scope to strengthen statutory guidance to support employers to take early, sustained and proportionate steps to support a sick employee to return to work, before that employee can be fairly dismissed on the grounds of ill health.”
The government is now inviting feedback from employers, insurers and disability groups on these proposals contained in this consultation documents.
Commenting on the report Legal & General Group Protection claims and governance director Vanessa Sallows says: “Employee absence as a result of sickness and injury continues to have a huge impact on UK businesses, with over 130 million working days lost a year.
“While minor illness like colds, flu and migraines are partly responsible for this figure, the majority is down to long-term absences of four weeks or more.
“As today’s report highlights, the longer an employee takes off work due to a spell of long-term sickness, the more difficult it becomes to make a sustainable return to work. At Legal & General, we understand that being unable to work due to illness or injury can be a frightening prospect for many employees, so it’s vital to highlight the benefits and importance of employee benefits such as Group Income Protection (GIP) in supporting employees when they need it most.
Through these policies, employees can get access to rehabilitation services providing them with the right treatment to support a faster and more effective return to work.”