Long term sickness, which is generally taken to mean being off work for over 4 weeks, has been thrown into the spotlight ever since the Coalition came to power. The Department of Work and Pensions was charged to cut down the burden on the State’s finances posed by those who don’t have jobs because they are sick or disabled and those who have jobs but stay off work indefinitely.
The department has now decided to set up a Health and Work Service (HWS) to deal principally with the latter group by helping employers identify what, if any, issues are preventing a return to work and what measures might be taken to help them return to work. Employers with staff on long term sickness will be able to refer employees to the HWS for work-focused occupational health assessments.
This should prove a boon for businesses, particularly smaller ones, which often have to employ specialist employment solicitors to help terminate employees’ contracts which can be a notoriously tricky minefield to negotiate. It is anticipated that an average of around half a million employees will be referred to the service every year.
How HWS works
This process as presently envisaged will start by referring employees to their individual GPs and/or an Occupational Health expert who will carry out a consultation with each employee with the aim of isolating what the employees can and cannot do and then suggesting ways in which the employers might be able to assist them in returning to the workplace.
At present, staff who are subject to long term sickness are paid either statutory sick pay or company sick pay that includes an element of statutory sick pay. Any employer who pays over a certain percentage of statutory sick pay in a particular month can recover some of this from the government via the Percentage Threshold Scheme but this will be scrapped as the new HWS is introduced. The thinking behind this is that both measures will encourage employers to deal with long term sickness absentees more quickly and more efficiently and save everybody money that may currently be spent unnecessarily.
The new system will be designed specifically to get people back working again as soon as they are physically able to and, with this in mind, assessments may now include the creation of a written plan to enable the employee to resume work and advice to the employer as to whether any ongoing medical care is required and whether the employee could be helped by alternative working arrangements such as a reduction in hours or a work from home programme.
Under the scheme, an employee’s consent to undergo any assessment will still be required and he or she will still be entitled to refuse to either meet the Occupational Health Physician or to abide by any development plan or advice that may be provided so it doesn’t look as though employment solicitors are going to be redundant any time soon.
Stephens Scown Employment Solicitors in Exeter have a vastly experienced team of legal experts that specialise in a wide range of employment related subjects including long term absenteeism and the newly created health & work service.
About the Author: This article is written by Jason Tucker