In November 2017, the government announced there would be a consultation on introducing a reformed statutory sick pay (SSP) scheme which supported those who carried out more flexible working, as well as to examine Matthew Taylor’s recommendation that sick pay should be payable as a day one employment right which accrues based on length of service. Earlier this year, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, confirmed that this consultation was forthcoming.
The ‘Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill-health related job loss’ has now been released by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care. Statistics released alongside the consultation include highlighting that 44 per cent of employees who spend a year off work because of illness do not return to work, whilst an estimated 100,000 employees leave their employment each year after a period of sickness absence which lasts for at least four weeks.
A key part of the consultation is looking at lowering the eligibility requirements for SSP. Currently, an employee must receive earnings of at least the lower earnings level, set at £118 a week for 2019/20, as well as be off sick for four or more days in a row. The consultation is looking at simplifying rules around qualifying days as well as removing the need to achieve a minimum level of earnings before becoming eligible. It is thought this will bring more than two million lower paid workers into the eligibility pool for sick payments, helping to support them during their period of sickness.
The consultation is also looking at providing more employees with support during their sickness, in order to help them return to work after their sickness period. This includes examining whether a phased return to work after two weeks of sickness absence, during which the employee will be paid part wages and receive part SSP, will help more individuals return to work.
The government is also assessing whether legal changes are needed to ensure employers are encouraged to take action designed to help and support employees during their sickness absence. Although the duty to make reasonable adjustments is in place, this provides no support for those who are not deemed disabled under the Equality Act 2010. A suggested change contained within the consultation is to introduce a right to request work(place) modifications for anyone not covered by the reasonable adjustments duty. The consultation asks whether the new right should be available for only those who have been absent from work for 4 weeks or more, as well as confirming that employers should be able to refuse a request on legitimate business grounds. A new Code of Practice is mooted to help employers deal with requests submitted under any new right introduced.
The consultation is open until 7 October 2019, with any amendments to introduce employer support to reduce ill health-related job losses following this date.