The aim of the consultation “Health is everyone’s business” is to explore ways to reduce the number of employees with health conditions falling out of work. The Government recognises that this must be a joint effort with employers who are able to make a positive difference to employees by offering early and sustained support.
Two areas of consideration are briefly explored below.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
SSP is paid by employers to employees on sick leave. It has been highlighted in the consultation as an area in need of reform. The SSP system has been criticised as being “inflexible” and out of touch with modern working practices.
Currently, employees must earn an average of at least £118 per week to qualify for SSP. The rate of SSP is £94.25 a week for up to 28 weeks.
The Government’s proposed changes to SSP include widening its scope to cover employees on lower incomes and allowing a phased return to work. This would enable an employee to receive part wage/part SSP. The Government has also proposed strengthening the compliance and enforcement framework of SSP. This would be positive news for lower paid workers, seeing them afforded at least some income in times of sickness. Of course, this is coupled with a greater financial burden for employers, but why should lower income employees be denied the benefit of SSP?
Other areas of exploration will include providing rebates to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) which demonstrate best practice in supporting employees on sickness absence. It is not clear what would be considered ‘best practice’ or how this would be monitored.
Occupational health market reform
Occupational health services can be an effective resource in supporting employees returning to work after a period of sickness.
Despite the potential benefits, research has shown that SMEs are less likely to invest in occupational health services due to cost. This can be a short-term view that has longer term cost and litigation complexities.
The consultation will also explore whether Government efforts to reduce the cost barrier could encourage greater access to occupational health services. This in turn could reduce long term sickness absence and potentially the risk of disability discrimination litigation arising.