198: Government publishes consultation on proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss
The Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care have published a joint consultation, ‘Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss’. This sets out reforms aimed at increasing the employment of disabled people, keeping disabled people in work, and helping employers manage long-term sickness, particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Key proposals in the consultation include:
- a new right to request workplace modifications on health grounds, which would extend to employees who are not disabled and therefore not covered by the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. This could include modifications to working hours, duties, or the physical working environment. The application process could be similar to making a flexible working request, with the employer able to refuse a request on legitimate business grounds. Views are also sought on whether the right should be available to employees returning from any period of sickness absence or limited to absences of four weeks or more. It is envisaged that the new right would be supported by a Code of Practice for employers and enforced in the Employment Tribunal;
- major reform of statutory sick pay (SSP) including allowing for SSP to be paid after two or more weeks’ absence on a pro rata basis during an employee’s phased return to work; removing the concept of qualifying days; removing the lower earnings limit for eligibility, with employees who earn less than the lower earnings limit receiving 80% of their salary as SSP; and improving enforcement for vulnerable workers. Views are also sought on the introduction of a rebate of SSP targeted at SMEs, perhaps only for employers who can demonstrate that they have adopted best practice or focused on employing disabled people or the long-term unemployed. The Government is also asking for views on introducing a requirement to record SSP data, possibly through payroll systems;
- improved access to occupational health services by reducing the cost for SMEs, for example, by means of a voucher scheme or direct subsidies; addressing the shortage of occupational health professionals; and looking at ways of delivering services to make them more affordable, such as increased use of technology or coordinated purchasing;
- strengthened statutory guidance for employers to encourage early intervention in supporting sick employees to return to work. It is anticipated that the guidance would be used when considering the question of fairness in unfair dismissal proceedings; and
- improved provision of expert-led advice to employers, aimed primarily at SMEs and the self-employed. This would include information on how and where to access occupational health services, best practice case studies, access to peer and support networks, and links to local sources.