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Government consultation: “Health is everyone’s business”

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The government has launched a consultation on ways in which government and employers can take action to reduce ill-health-related job loss in the UK.

Despite low unemployment figures, it remains the case that those who suffer from ill health face barriers entering and remaining in work. The government reported that although around 8 in 10 non-disabled people are employed, only five in 10 disabled people are in work, and disabled people are 10 times more likely to leave work following long-term sickness absence than non-disabled people.

The government is seeking views on a number of proposals which aim to encourage early action by employers to engage with and support employees with long-term health conditions, including:

  • A right for employees to request work(place) modifications on health grounds. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are currently under a duty to make reasonable adjustments where an employee with a disability and is placed at a substantial disadvantage as a result of a provision, criterion or practice imposed by the employer, a physical feature of the employer’s premises or a failure by the employer to provide an auxiliary aid. The proposed change would allow employees to request that modifications are made even where the employee doesn’t meet the definition of disabled under the 2010 Act. The employer, unlike under the duty to make reasonable adjustments, would be able to refuse a request for workplace modifications on legitimate business grounds.
  • Reform of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The proposed changes would enable an employee returning from a period of sickness absence to have a flexible, phased return to work while still receiving some SSP and would see those who do not qualify for SSP (as they earn below the Lower Earnings Limit) receive a proportion of their wage as SSP. Additionally, there are proposals to increase the fines for failure to pay SSP where it is due, and the inclusion of the enforcement of SSP within the remit of a proposed new, single labour market enforcement body (see further commentary on the consultation in relation to this new body here.
  • Ways of improving the use of Occupational Health (OH) services by employers. The government is seeking views on ways to reduce the costs, increase market capacity and improve the value and quality of OH services.

The proposed measures aim to recognise the role that employers play in assisting employees with disabilities and health conditions to stay at work, and the importance of the employer taking early action. The consultation looks to measure the impact of the proposals on businesses, individuals and the occupational health profession. The views gathered during the consultation will inform government policy in this area. The consultation will run until 7 October 2019 and is available here.