Have your say on sick pay and fit note reforms

The government is seeking views on how best to help disabled people and those with long-term health conditions into the workplace and keep them in work.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, made a statement in the House of Commons, explaining that “It is clear that for many disabled people, the barriers to entering work are still too high, and that people in work who get ill too often fall out of work, lose contact, lose confidence and do not return to work.”

The green paper – consultation document produced by the government – reveals some interesting statistics:

  • The gap between the employment rates of disabled people and non-disabled people is 32%.
  • 54% of all disabled people who are not in work suffer mental health and/or musculoskeletal conditions as their main health condition.
  • Only 8% of employers report that they have hired a person with a disability or long-term health condition over a year.
  • 139 million sick days were taken in 2015.
  • Sickness absence costs employers £9 billion a year.
  • 8 million employees on average have a long-term sickness absence of four weeks or more in a year.

In the green paper, the government has set out some proposed solutions and is seeking views from employers, disabled people, health professionals and other stakeholders.

Here is a summary of the main 3 proposals that are of most relevance to employers:

1  Statutory Sick Pay
The government is looking at possible reforms to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to promote a phased return to work and seeking views on how to do this.

At present, the government has identified two problems with SSP. Firstly, employees lose their entitlement to SSP once they return to work, even if they are only working part-time hours. This means that those with low pay may be discouraged from returning to work on a reduced amount of hours because they would no longer be entitled to SSP and their earnings may be below the amount provided by SSP. Secondly, it may push people to return to their normal working hours before they are fit enough to return to work, which can result in more absences.

The government has proposed that in cases where the employee returns on reduced hours and their earnings are below the weekly SSP rate, the employer could ‘top up’ their wages to the SSP level.

2  Regular contact during sick leave
The government also wants to see more regular contact between employers and employees who are on long-term sick leave. They value discussions on how best to support a return to work as essential to keeping these employees in the workplace.

They point out that in other countries, such as Norway and the Netherlands, an employer must create a return to work plan with the employee within or by the first 8 weeks of the employee’s absence.

They are seeking opinions on what it would be reasonable to expect from both employers and employees in this respect.

3  Fit notes
The government says that “although over 60% of GPs agree or somewhat agree that the fit note has improved the quality of their return to work discussions with patients, the fit note is not fully achieving what it set out to do.”

The government has stated its intention to re-examine fit notes and assess whether fit certification should be extended from doctors to other healthcare professionals. It is seeking views on the following:

  • Regarding the fit note certificate, what information should be captured to best help the individual and employers better support a return to work or job retention?
  • Is the fit note the right channel to get this information, or should there be other ways to obtain fitness for work and health information? Does the fit note fulfil employer’s needs?

The government is seeking the views of both large and small employers. To give your view, please click here. All responses must be received by 17 February 2017.

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James Tamm

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