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23 January 2013

Sickness absence proposals

The Department for Work and Pensions has recently issued the Government’s response to the independent review of sickness absence, undertaken by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE and published in November 2011. 

The purpose of the review was to find ways of improving the coherence, effectiveness and cost of the existing system for managing sickness absence. According to figures published in the review, every year 140 million working days are lost to sickness absence, with over 300,000 people falling out of work onto health-related state benefits per year.  Employers pay sick pay and associated costs of £9 billion per year.

In its response, the Government accepted many of the findings made in the review and confirmed the following:

• A new health and work assessment and advisory service will be established to make occupational health advice more readily accessible to employers and employees. The new service will begin in 2014 and will include a state-funded assessment by occupational health professionals for employees who are off sick for four weeks or more;
• Tax relief on Employee Assistance Programmes will be retained, and tax relief on other employer interventions will be considered and a decision made in the 2013 budget;
• Revised guidance will be issued shortly to GPs, employers and employees on the ‘fit note’ in order to improve healthcare professionals’ knowledge and understanding of physical and mental health and employment;
• The Percentage Threshold Scheme (which compensates mainly smaller employers for high rates of sickness absence in their organisations) will be abolished, releasing funds for the new assessment and advisory service;
• The statutory requirement for employers to maintain statutory sick pay records will be removed to reduce administrative burdens; and
• Steps will be taken to improve standards of sickness absence management within the public sector.

A copy of the review and the Government response can be found on the Department for Work and Pensions website.

For any employment enquiries please contact the Steeles Law employment team on employment@steeleslaw.co.uk or 01603 598000.