Reducing health-related job loss

by | Sep 23, 2019

This summer has been an unusually busy one for government consultations on changes to employment law. As well as launching consultations on proposals to improve equality in the workplace and to protect workers in the gig economy, the government is consulting on ways to help those with long-term health conditions to stay in work.

In a consultation which ends on 7 October 2019, the government proposes a range of measures. In introducing these proposals, the government highlighted the benefits these proposals should bring; businesses would retain experience, government would benefit from keeping individuals off state benefits and individuals would experience the positive effects of being in work.

Perhaps the most significant of the proposals is the right to request workplace modifications on health grounds. For many years, employers of individuals with a health condition which fulfills the statutory definition of a disability, must implement what are known as reasonable adjustments to support that individual at work. Reasonable adjustments are measures that help an individual to do their job, such as working from home for someone with severe social anxiety or providing an accessible desk for a wheelchair user.

Many individuals with a health condition that affects their performance or attendance at work, do not qualify as disabled under the definition, for instance because their condition may not last long enough. It is now proposed to give employees the right to request workplace modifications on health grounds, even if their health condition does not amount to a disability. It is suggested that employers would be able to refuse the request on the basis of specified business grounds, such as the employer’s financial resources or the impact on productivity.

The government is also considering introducing statutory guidance on supporting employees returning to work from sickness absence. The consultation suggests that the guidance could include keeping considerate contact with the employee from early on in their sickness absence and ensuring appropriate transition arrangements when coming back to work, such as phased returns and reduced duties. It is proposed that if the employer dismissed the employee on the grounds of ill health and the employee went on to bring a claim for unfair dismissal, the employment tribunal would consider the employer’s compliance with the guidance when assessing the fairness of the dismissal.

An important change that could help facilitate the proposals supporting employees returning from sickness absence, is making Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) more flexible. Proposals would allow employees to continue to receive some SSP during a phased return to work. At the moment, SSP stops as soon as the employee starts to receive their normal pay, even if this pay is reduced during a phased return.

As part of the same consultation, the government proposes extending the eligibility to SSP to include those earning less than the current threshold. At present, those earning less than £118 per week are not entitled to SSP

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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