Sickness absence in the workplace

4th August 2014

The government has been putting together a plan to assist employers and employees manage sickness absence in the workplace, given the financial and operational impact that such issues can have on all businesses. It has been estimated that employers face an annual bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs, and therefore, reform in this area is needed.
The plans largely centre on helping employees to return from sick leave by providing them with an occupational health assessment when they reach, or are expected to reach, 4 weeks' sickness absence.  
It is understood that GPs will refer such employees to an independent occupational health service and then a work plan will be devised, that can then be shared with the employer. The occupational health service will also provide wider support to employers and employees, such as telephone advice.   
The intention is that the service will start to be rolled out in late 2014. The government have announced that they will be using Health Management Ltd to provide the occupational health services. It is also understand that a tax exemption of up to £500 a year (per employee) on payments for any medical treatments recommended an occupational health provider will be introduced. This is to limit such payments being classed as a taxable benefit in kind and encourage treatments to be provided where possible.
For employers, these changes will no doubt be welcomed, as it demonstrates that the government is trying to tackle issues of absence in the workplace. In addition, for employers that do not have any occupational health service in place, this scheme will provide clear access to such support, which should assist when managing absence. It is not yet known how helpful the reports will be and so where employers have existing occupational health services in place, they may wish to retain these whilst this new service is evaluated further. It is also not clear to what extent the employer will be able to input into the questions and format of any health assessment and report, so again, it will largely be a case of waiting to see how the scheme is run in practice.  

For more information on employment related issues, please contact the employment team on 0845 111 5050. 


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