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Health is Everyone’s Business: UK government to support employers in reducing ill-health related job loss

On 15 July 2019, the Government launched a consultation called “Health Is Everyone’s Business: proposals to reduce ill-health related job loss”, which could result in major changes to employment law, which may affect your business. As part of this consultation, the Government outlined ways in which they, and employers, can take action to reduce ill-health related job loss.

What is the Health is Everyone’s Business consultation proposing?

The consultation document says that reform is needed in relation to a number of areas such as:

  • Increasing the number of disabled people in employment – currently, disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed as those people who are not disabled.
  • Keeping disabled people in work – approximately 300,000 disabled people each year lose their jobs due to long-term sickness absence.
  • Assisting small and medium businesses in keeping disabled people in work. Half of disabled employees work in businesses with 50 or fewer employees but figures suggest that smaller businesses do not manage return-to-work or access to occupational health assistance as well as larger employers do.
  • Increasing support for employees who are not disabled under the Equality Act 2010 but who may have a health condition, which could put their employment in jeopardy.

The consultation seeks views on a wide range of matters including:

  • The right to request modifications to the workplace, which would include people who are not disabled under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Reforming payment of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) so that it covers the lowest paid employees instead of, as is currently the case, only those who meet the SSP threshold in terms of rates of pay and NI contributions.
  • Allowing employees a phased return to work after two or more weeks of absence, where they would be paid part of their wage and part SSP. An online calculator will be created to assist with working out the figures.
  • Simplifying the rules on payment of SSP and increasing enforcement in a similar way to how payment of the National Minimum Wage is enforced.
  • Providing funding for smaller businesses by way of SSP rebates.
  • Exploring the possibility of employers automatically reporting sickness absence through its payroll system. This would allow the Government to access that data with a view to providing targeted guidance on managing absence.
  • Introducing statutory guidance on the steps that employers should take before employees are dismissed because of their absence from work.
  • Improving access to occupational health facilities for employers.

What about self-employed workers?

The consultation has also raised the issue of whether these proposals will have any impact on gig-economy workers. It is estimated that more than one million people in the UK work in the gig-economy and receive little or no holiday or sick pay from their employers. There is no clear indication at this stage as to whether the proposals will extend to gig workers or people who work on a freelance or short-term basis for employers.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the consultation did not seek to “undermine the flexibility in the UK labour market”.

The DWP also stated: “If someone currently earning below the lower earnings limit were given the full rate of SSP, it is likely that this would be above the level of their weekly wage. If they can get the same amount or more from staying off work then this removes the incentive for employees to return to work. It is a balance between supporting this group when they are off work sick while also providing an incentive for them to return to work.”

Presumably, the DWP’s concerns could be addressed by a lower rate of SSP being paid to those who would not qualify otherwise.

Summary

This consultation could result in major changes to employment law. We’ll be closely watching how this consultation develops and will provide regular updates to ensure your business remains legally compliant.

For further help and advice around any of the matters discussed in this article or wider topics of employment law, you can get in touch with Nick Wilson, partner in our employment law team by emailing nick.wilson@andrewjackson.co.uk or speak to one of the team by calling 01482 325242.

If you’re interested in learning more about the emergence of the gig economy, please visit our news section to read related articles from the Andrew Jackson employment team:

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