Government is considering changes to the Statutory Sick Pay system

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It has been reported that two million of the UK’s lowest paid workers could become eligible for statutory sick pay for the first time under Government proposals to support sick and disabled staff. This is a welcome development as vital changes need to be made to a statutory sick pay scheme that many view as outdated and which does not assist the poorest in society.

Under these proposals which form part of a wider consultation with business, the eligibility threshold for receiving statutory sick pay will be lowered from the current level of £118 per week which is the equivalent of 14 hours on the national living wage.

The Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have set out new measures to transform how employers support and retain disabled staff and those with a health condition. As part of these measures it has also been proposed that small businesses may be offered a sick pay rebate to reward those who are most effective in managing employees on sick leave and help them get back to work.

Statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions show that each year some 100,000 people leave their jobs following a period of sickness absence lasting at least four weeks. Further the longer somebody is off sick the more likely they will fall out of work with 44% of people who had been off sick for a year then leaving their employment altogether.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – Amber Rudd has said “I want Britain to be an environment where disabled people and those with health conditions can thrive, not just survive – not only in work but every area of their lives. With 3 in 5 employers facing challenges when supporting employees to return to work, it’s time that we took a closer look at how businesses can retain staff. Good work is good for our mental and physical health, and by working closely with employers we can help prevent the loss of talent when people unnecessarily leave the workplace.’

As part of the consultation, business and health providers will be asked for their views on how to remove the barriers in the current system which prevent employers from taking action, with small employers expected to need the most support. The Occupational Health system will also form part of the consultation and in particular it will focus on value and quality of such providers.

The Government will also consider whether to change legal guidance to encourage employers to intervene during a period of sickness absence with the aim of reducing the number of people leaving their employment for health reasons. It is thought that by using simple low-cost measures such as making flexible adjustments to someone’s working pattern or keeping in touch with people while they are on sick leave will assist these aims.

The reality of course may well be somewhat different as many employees will not wish to be contacted by their employers whilst they are unwell and have been signed off sick. The definition of ‘small businesses’ is also not defined. As with all these things the devil will be in the detail and we will no doubt have more clarity at the end of the consultation period in terms of defining these proposals which may well become law.

It is also important to remind employers that they have a continuing duty of care to their employees who are on long term sickness absence and that they should be mindful of those who may have a disability in law. These are employees who have a physical or mental impairment lasting for more than 12 months affecting their day to day activities.

If you have any concerns about sickness absence then contact Steven Eckett, Partner and Head of Employment on 020 7703 5034 or by e-mail seckett@meaby.co.uk