Government consults on proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss

4 mins

Posted on 25 Jul 2019

As part of its proposals for reducing ill-health related job losses, the Government is considering introducing a new right to request workplace modifications. It is also considering reforms to statutory sick pay and improving occupational health provision.  

What changes are the government considering regarding workplace modifications?

The Government is considering whether employees should have the right to request workplace modifications on health grounds. The right would extend to employees who are not disabled and so not covered by the employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments. The right could be available to:

  • Employees who have had a long term or cumulative absence of four weeks or more
  • Any employee returning from a period of sickness or
  • Any employee who can make a case for a workplace modification on health grounds 

Workplace modifications could include changes to working hours or patterns, changes to tasks or duties and changes to the working environment. 

It proposes that the application process could be similar to making a flexible working request. An employer would be able to refuse a request on legitimate business grounds and a Code of Practice could give more detail on the business grounds for refusal. The Government proposes that employees would be able to bring an employment tribunal claim to enforce the right.   

How are the government proposing to alter statutory sick pay?

The Government wants to reform statutory sick pay so that it is more flexible and covers the lowest paid employees.  It also want to improve enforcement.  

One of the problems identified with the current system is that payment of statutory sick pay stops as soon as an employee returns to work. This can deter employees from a phased return to work or encourage them to return to work before they have recovered fully. For example, if they work on alternate days or half days, they do not qualify for statutory sick pay and so could be worse of financially than if they remained on sick leave. 

The Government proposes that after two or more weeks’ absence, an employee on a phased return to work would be able to receive part wage and part statutory sick pay. They would receive their wages for the hours worked and pro-rated statutory sick pay for the hours they are not well enough to work. The Government plans to introduce an online calculator to help employers calculate sick pay during a phased return. 

Other proposals include:

  • Removing the rules around qualifying days
  • Extending statutory sick pay to employees earning below the lower earnings limit. As these employees earn less than the statutory sick pay rate, the Government proposes they should receive 80% of their wage as sick pay 
  • Requiring employers to notify employees four weeks before their statutory sick pay is due to end. This could then prompt a discussion about what support the employee needs to return to work
  • Rebates for SMEs who go beyond their legal obligations and demonstrate best practice in helping an employee to return to work or for SMEs supporting the sickness absence of disabled employees or those who have recently moved from long-term unemployment   

It also seeks views on whether its proposed new single labour enforcement body should enforce payment in the same way that HMRC enforces payment of the national minimum wage and whether there should be increased fines for non-payment. The current maximum fine is £3,000.

The Government does not currently propose to increase the rate or length of statutory sick pay but seeks views on what impact any changes might have on employer behaviour. It considers that being able to pay employees at a much lower level when they are sick may undermine an employer’s commitment to rehabilitating them.

What changes are the government considering regarding access to occupational health?

The Government wants more employees to have access to occupational health and is looking at whether reducing the cost barrier for SMEs could help. It is considering co-funding the cost for SMEs and asks what types of occupational assistance should be subsidised. It is also looking at new ways of delivering occupational health services including through increased use of technology.  

The consultation Health is everyone’s business: Proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss closes on 7 October 2019.  

The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

Back to top