Consultation proposes reforming statutory sick pay

By now most employers will have heard the statistic that sickness at work costs the UK economy an estimated £77 billion a year in lost productivity and despite the existing legislation, which is designed to help staff remain in work, a large number of sick and disabled employees are ending up losing their jobs as a result.

In light of this, the government are calling on significant new action to drive transformational change and have launched a consultation called ‘Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss’.

The headline takeaway from this consultation is the proposal to extend eligibility for statutory sick pay (SSP) to include those who currently earn under the lower earnings limit of £118 per week. This would mean that an estimated 2 million of the UK’s lowest paid employees may be eligible for SSP for the first time, potentially placing a significant added financial cost on employers with a large number of part-time and low-paid employees.

Also on the topic of SSP, the government have suggested simplifying the technical rules so that every day of the week is considered a qualifying day for the purposes of receiving SSP, rather than an employee’s contracted working days. Additionally proposals also focus on amending existing law to allow employees to undergo a phased return following a period of sickness lasting 2 weeks or more, during which they will be able to receive part wage and part SSP.

It is readily accepted that workplace modifications can be a significant help to staff who are experiencing sickness and the government is proposing a new right to allow staff, who do not qualify as disabled under the Equality Act 2010, to request workplace modifications on health grounds. Examples of possible modifications include a change in working hours or patterns, working tasks or duties or to the physical working environment. The right to request such workplace modifications may be restricted to those who have experienced a long-term sickness absence of 4 weeks or more and a Code of Practice will be provided to support both employers and employees.

Employers who embrace the issue of sickness at work and look to support staff in returning to good health are often able to reap the benefits of a dedicated and rejuvenated workforce.

Whilst an official response is not expected for some time after the closing of the consultation on 7th October 2019, any decisions which come as a result could significantly alter the way employers approach SSP and sickness at work in general. As such, it will be important for employers to keep on top of any developments and ensure they are prepared for any legislative changes that are announced.

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