In the UK, there are around 12.7m working-age people with a long-term health condition, including 7.6m disabled people whose condition affects their ability to carry out day to day activities. However despite rates of employment steadily increasing, there remains a gap between the employment rate of disabled people compared with those who are non-disabled. Disabled people are twice as likely to fall out of work, with around 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition falling out of work every year
The Government is now consulting on a number of proposals which aim to reduce ill health-related job loss. The Consultation opened on 15th July 2019 and closes on 7th October 2019 and can be found here.
Making sure all employers have access to the support they need
The Government says it is committed to doing more to create the conditions for success by making sure all employers have access to the support they need to help their employees. This includes improving advice and information for employers, improving the occupational health market, and exploring what financial support the government could provide to help smaller businesses and self-employed people access occupational health.
Many of the proposals involve additional government assistance to employers trying to support employees with long term health conditions and disabilities. However, there are also proposals to change the existing legal framework around workplace modifications - potentially widening the scope of reasonable adjustments and creating new rights for employees.
The proposal gaining most mainstream media attention was proposed changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), with the Government proposing to extend eligibility to those earning below the current threshold. Other SSP changes proposed included simplifying qualifying days for SSP, allowing employees to continue receiving statutory sick pay during phased returns to work and offering small businesses that follow best practice guidance to help employees return to work a rebate on SSP paid.
A number of proposals related to improvements to Occupational Health services and helping SMEs access these services. This was alongside additional information and guidance aimed at encouraging employers to take early, sustained and proportionate steps to support a sick employee to return to work. The consultation has called for comments on whether or not guidance should be principle-based or instead should it outline for specific steps for employers to take.
The most interesting of all the proposals is a potential new right to request work(place) modifications which would, in effect, extend the existing duty for employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees to a larger pool of employees. The idea is that employees could make a statutory request for work(place) modifications similar to a flexible working request and employers would have a set timescale to respond in and could only refuse a request on certain grounds. The consultation has asked for comments on who exactly should be caught by this proposal so it is difficult to assess the number of employers who would be affected by this new duty
What do employers need to consider?
Whilst there has been a change of Government and the proposals are at consultative stage only, the Secretary of State Matt Hancock remained in the post following the cabinet reshuffle and the suggestion is that there is a political will to introduce new policies to assist those with long term health conditions.
Therefore, employers will need to be mindful of the proposals as this could affect the SSP system and although they may already implement work(place) modifications on an informal basis, if a statutory right is introduced they will need to ensure they have formal procedures in place to respond to such requests. The sense is that employers will be expected to take more proactive action to assist those with long term health conditions return to work and will be expected to exhaust all options before dismissal becomes an option, therefore employers will need policies and procedures to match.
We're here to help
If your business requires support in this area, or you would like us to review your current policies, then please contact a member of our team.