Yesterday the government launched a consultation called “Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss”. The headline proposals are:

Reforming statutory sick pay

  • Providing statutory sick pay (SSP) to the lowest paid workers. Currently eligibility for SSP depends on an employee earning at least £118 per week (the lower earnings limit). It is estimated that at the moment around 2 million people in the UK earn less than that, most of them part-time workers. Views are being sought on the appropriate level and duration of SSP for these workers – as paying them the full rate of SSP could act as a disincentive to returning where it’s above their weekly earnings. The government’s view is that employees earning less than the lower earnings limit should be paid 80% of earnings as SSP.
  • Allowing flexible phased returns to work after two or more weeks of absence, where employees would receive part wage and part SSP. An online calculator would be created to assist with the figures. It would be up to the employer and employee to decide themselves whether a phased return to work would be appropriate and how it might work, with medical input as required.
  • Strengthening compliance and enforcement of SSP to ensure that employees are paid what they are due.
  • Offering small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who help employees to return to work a rebate of SSP.
  • Simplifying the eligibility rules by removing the identification of specific qualifying days for SSP.

Right to request workplace modifications on health grounds

  • Introducing a right to request workplace modifications on health grounds (similar to the existing right to request flexible working) for employees not covered by the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. Reasonable modifications might include changes to working hours / pattern / duties or to the physical working environment; and extend to seeking expert advice from occupational health services to support decision making.
  • The government is seeking views on the appropriate eligibility criteria for making a request (suggesting it might be limited to absences of 4 or more weeks); the length of time an employer would have to respond to a request; and the legitimate business reasons for refusing a request for workplace modifications.

Encouraging early and supportive action from employers

  • Strengthening statutory guidance to encourage employers to take “early, proportionate and reasonable steps to support an employee to return to work, before dismissing them on health grounds”. This could be better quality employer information and guidance, or easier access to occupational health services, for example.

Improving access to occupational health

  • Increasing the supply of high quality and cost-effective OH services.
  • Offering SMEs targeted subsidies or vouchers to access OH services. This could potentially lead to more access to OH assessments and advice; training; or recommended treatments.
  • Looking at ways of using technology more effectively to support OH service delivery.

Advice and support for employers

  • Improving the provision of advice and information to support the management of health in the workplace and encourage better-informed purchasing of expert-led advice.
  • Exploring the possibility of employers automatically reporting sickness absence through payroll, to allow the government to access the data required to provide targeted guidance on managing absence.

More detail is available in the consultation paper; the deadline for responses is 7 October 2019.