Monday 21st November saw an independent review aimed at reducing the cost of sickness to employers, taxpayers and the economy presented to the Government. 140 million days lost to sickness absence every year, 11 million employees take sick leave and 300,000 people go on to claim health-related benefits – these are big numbers and one the biggest HR issues for employers.
Find out more below about the recommendations and Triangle HR’s opinion and experience from working in the local the business community.
The review contains a number of recommendations which aim to reduce the human and financial cost of sickness absence in the UK. These are shown below and extracted from a Government announcement published earlier this week.
The Government wants to tackle this via two routes.
- The first is by giving employers an independent appeals process so that they can test whether sick notes given in the main have been granted for the right reasons. A more independent assessment may differ. Within the first four weeks of an employee being “signed off”, a business will have to pay a fee for the service. After that, it can appeal at no cost. The decision of the independent group of GPs, who will be an expert in work related health issues, may provide an alternative diagnosis.
- The second route is by over-hauling the employment support allowance. The current benefits kick in after the 28 week statutory sick pay period has been exhausted. The problem with the employment support allowance is that people are assessed as to their eligibility only after they have been on the allowance for 13 weeks.
Therefore one aim of this process would be to help reduce the number of employees who remain off work for long periods of time. The assessment is expected to reveal that approximately 6% may be deemed fit for work with half being able to return to work earlier than the 13 week period.
The Government, quite rightly, is seeking to move the assessment process to the beginning of the 13 weeks and therefore encourage people who can go back to work to do so.
With a new Independent Assessment Service (IAS), both employers and GPs can refer long-term sickness absence cases for bespoke advice – with employers standing to gain around £100m a year from reductions to sick pay bills from using this service.
- Removal of the assessment phase for claimants of Employment and Support Allowance will allow those claimants who need support to get it sooner and those that can work access to find a job more quickly. It will also save the taxpayer £100m each year.
- Introducing a new job brokering service for employees on long-term sickness absence who are unable to return to their current employer could save the State up to £300m a year by reducing the benefits bill.
The review was led by Professor Dame Carol Black (the Government’s director for health and work) and David Frost (former head of the British Chambers of Commerce), who claims that the proposed changes “could save employers £100 million per year from reductions to sick pay bills”.
The Government response, reported in Personnel Today by Edward Davey, minister for employment relations, said that the Government would be looking at the proposals “with interest”. “Sickness absence is an issue that affects everybody. The current system lets down individuals, businesses and taxpayers, which is why this review is such an important piece of work.”
The British Chambers of Commerce backed the recommendations and called on the Government to introduce them “without delay”. Director-general John Longworth said: “Sickness absence and the rules that surround it are a big problem for UK firms – 70% of businesses believe that the rules on how to handle sickness absence are burdensome. On that basis, we welcome the deregulatory measures recommended in this review.”
Our perspective and advice on this announcement
Triangle HR supports a variety of business sectors throughout Shropshire and surrounding counties and is regularly advising business owners/managers when it comes to managing sickness absence. And whilst sickness absence is a huge concern, often managers lack the confidence or the capability when it comes to handling sickness absence, particularly if the employee is claiming stress or anxiety.
- Our advice is to act upon sickness related absences immediately. It is imperative that the process is handled appropriately and that managers communicate with their employees as quickly as possible, and of course are applying their internal sickness absence policy.
- We have seen a significant increase in the number of people being signed off work for prolonged periods, and in many cases the GP has no understanding of their work environment and job role before signing them off work.
We are in favour of this proposal and believe that this process will enable employers to manage sickness absence more effectively. Additionally we believe that this policy would encourage employees to think twice about their reasons for being signed off work in the first place.
Locally The Shropshire Star reported ‘In Shropshire, several of the county’s biggest employers have reported a rise in long-term sickness absence this year…’
Finally, reported in The Independent was the response from the British Medical Association welcoming the proposed changes “GPs have a long-term relationship with their patients and it puts them in a difficult situation if they are being asked to tell a patient that they’re wrong and are fit to work,” it said. “GPs are often not best placed to assess what someone can and cannot do. It is far better if a trained occupational health doctor does that.”For further request our employer guidance sheet entitled ‘Managing Sickness and Absence’ by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org