Service targets sickness absence

Employers will soon be able to refer employees to a new Health and Work Service to help combat workplace sickness absence.

The government has just released details of the service, which it says will help to reduce the more than 130 million days that are lost to sickness absence each year and an annual £100 billion cost to the UK economy through ill health.

The service will help employees who have been on sickness absence for four weeks to return to work and support employers in managing sickness absence. The government says that currently:

  • employers face a yearly bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs;
  • employees miss out on £4 billion a year in lost earnings; and
  • around 300,000 people a year fall out of work and into the benefits system because of health-related issues.

The Department of Work and Pensions said on 10 February that the service would offer a work-focussed occupational health assessment and case management to employees in the early stages of sickness absence.

The assessment will identify issues which are preventing an employee from going back to work. The Health and Work Service will draw up a plan for the employee, their employer and GP, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly. The plan will include a return to work timetable and fitness for work advice.

GPs will be able to refer employees for assessment by the service once they have been absent, or are expected to be absent, from work due to illness for four weeks. Employers will also be able to refer employees to the service, which will include internet and telephone advice for anyone who needs it.

It is thought that the service will begin to be phased in this year and be fully introduced in 2015. To fund the service, the Statutory Sick Pay Percentage Threshold Scheme (PTS), which gives some compensation to employers faced with high levels of sickness absence, will be scrapped from April 2014.

At Palmers, our specialists can provide expert support on all aspects of employment law, including how to manage long-term sickness absence fairly.

Our HR package also offers regularly updated sample policies for matters such as sick leave.

For more information about our employment law services, please visit our website or contact Lara Murray.