The Government has confirmed its plans to tackle employee sickness absence by launching a new service, the Health and Work Service. According to Government statistics, as many as 960,000 employees were on sick leave for a month or more each year on average between October 2010 and September 2013 and the Government now wants to do more to support business to prevent sickness absence turning into long-term welfare dependency by setting up a new support service.
The new Health and Work Service will help employees who have been on sickness absence for four weeks to return to work and support employers to better manage sickness absence among their workforce. It is expected to save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20% to 40%.
The Health and Work Service will offer a free and independent work-focused occupational health assessment and case management to employees in the early stages of sickness absence. GPs will be able to refer employees for assessment by the new service once they are absent, or expected to be absent, from work due to illness for four weeks. Employers can also refer employees. The work-focused occupational health assessment will identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their employer and GP, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly. The plan will include a timetable for a return to work, fitness for work advice, as well as signpost to appropriate help. Employees will be supported throughout their time with the service, so they can return to work as soon as they are able to. It will also provide an advice service on the internet and telephone for anyone who needs it. The new service will be available to all employers, but will especially benefit Small and Medium Enterprises who currently have limited or no in-house occupational health services.
The new service will be funded through the abolition of the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Percentage Threshold Scheme (PTS). The PTS is being abolished from April 2014. According to the Government, any financial loss to business from the abolition of the PTS will more than likely be offset by a reduction in lost working days, earlier return to work and increased economic output.
The Budget 2013 announced a tax exemption on medical interventions recommended by the Health and Work Service. This was extended at the Autumn Statement to include employer-arranged interventions.