Two million of the UK’s lowest-paid workers could become eligible for sick pay under proposals to support unwell and disabled staff launched by the government yesterday.
The proposed measures include lowering the eligibility threshold for sick pay, as well as offering a rebate to small businesses who help employees return to work.
Under the measures, the eligibility threshold for statutory sick pay will be lowered from the current level of £118 per week, equivalent to 14 hours on the minimum wage.
Small businesses would also be offered a rebate for helping those on sick leave back into work, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.
The DWP’s figures reveal that more than 100,000 people leave their jobs following a period of sickness absence, with 44 per cent of employees off work for a year or more leaving employment altogether.
The DWP, along with the Department for Health and Social Healthcare, have launched a consultation to ask businesses and healthcare providers for their views on how to help employers work with and support sick and disabled staff.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Too many still face challenges returning to work after sick leave. We need to remove the barriers that stop people with disabilities or health conditions from reaching their full potential – these steps will help us achieve that.
“Businesses will also benefit from being able to retain talent, and build workplaces that support the physical and mental health needs of their employees.”
Employers can use simple, low-cost measures such as making flexible adjustments to someone’s working pattern or keeping in touch with people while they are on sick leave.
Some campaigners welcomed action being taken on the issue but said the proposals did not address important issues for disabled people.
Statutory sick pay is currently limited to a maximum of 28 weeks, which can be a barrier to keeping disabled people in work.
Mark Hodgkinson, chief executive at disability equality charity Scope, said: “The Statutory Sick Pay system is out of date, inflexible and poorly enforced, so it’s great news that government is consulting.
“But current flaws in the system with the level and length of SSP provided aren’t included. Disabled people would still face the stark choice between working when unwell or struggling to make ends meet.
“A sick pay system that offers support which is flexible, fair, and right away should be a priority for the next government.”
Government will also look at guidance for employers around modifying working conditions for those on sick leave to help them back into work. The new proposals include a right to request these modifications, similar to the right to request flexible working.
The government expects this change to be particularly beneficial for people with mental health conditions who are currently less likely to be granted modifications than those with physical disabilities.
The consultation will also look at how to improve occupational health services and reduce costs for small businesses.
Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd said: “I want Britain to be an environment where disabled people and those with health conditions can thrive, not just survive – not only in work but in every area of their lives.
“With three in five employers facing challenges when supporting employees to return to work, it’s time that we took a closer look at how businesses can retain staff.”