In Sickness and in Health.

Following a report commissioned by the Government in 2011, reviewing the health of Britain’s working age population, the Government has now started to implement a number of its recommendations. Changes are being introduced in a bid to reduce workplace sickness absence and the cost of ill health on individuals, employers and the taxpayer.

From 6 April 2014, whilst the rate of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) has increased from £86.70 to £87.55, the employers’ right to recover SSP costs from the Government has been abolished. This change has been introduced to encourage employers to actively manage long-term sickness absence in order to reduce the potential cost to their business, albeit that it will clearly increase their costs in the first instance.

This could come as quite a financial blow to employers who have a significant number of employees currently on SSP. Furthermore, employers who provide more generous sick pay than at the statutory rate may wish to bear in mind the impact of this change when reviewing their employment contracts or discretionary policies.

But it’s not all bad news for employers; it is understood that the money the Government will save, will be diverted to a new Health and Work Advisory Assessment Service which will be aimed at assisting employers and employees in achieving an earlier return to work. The new Service, which is expected to come into being in 2015, will provide state funded Occupational Health (OH) assessments for employees who are sick for 4 weeks or longer. Currently many employers complain that OH reports don’t offer enough practical advice on how to get the employee back to work. So time will tell if this new Service will actually make a difference in achieving an earlier return to work, especially as the service will be publicly funded and provided via a telephone based assessment.

In light of the recent and proposed changes, employers should review or introduce a robust Sickness Absence Policy and ensure it is followed consistently by all managers. Going forward, it will become even more important for employers to proactively manage their sick employees.

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