9 September 2019

New government proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss

Long Term Sickness Absence (LTSA) (sickness absence lasting more than four weeks) is a significant issue in the UK, with over 100,000 people leaving work following a period of LTSA each year. Sadly, statistics show that, the longer a period of LTSA continues, the lower the chance that the individual will return to work.

In this context, the government is consulting on a number of proposals designed to reduce ill health-related job loss. The proposals include:

  • strengthening statutory guidance to encourage employers to take early action to support sick employees before they can be fairly dismissed due to ill health;
  • reforming statutory sick pay;
  • improving access to occupational health services; and
  • improving the advice and support available to employers.

Perhaps most notably, the government is proposing to introduce a new right for employees to request workplace modifications on health grounds. This right would be separate from the current duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 (in cases where individuals are considered to have a disability), and would benefit individuals who are not currently covered by this regime.

If introduced, it is anticipated that the right would operate in a similar way to a flexible working request. Employees could ask their employer to make 'reasonable' workplace modifications (e.g. physical modifications to their working environment and/or changes to their working hours or responsibilities) and employers would only be able to refuse such requests on legitimate business grounds.

The government is seeking views as to who should be eligible to make a request. However, it has indicated that the right to make a request could be restricted to individuals that have already experienced a LTSA or sickness absence totalling at least four weeks in a 12-month period.

The consultation is due to end on 7 October 2019 and the government is yet to set a timeframe for further action. If you would like to contribute to the consultation you can do so online.

Generally, managing and dealing with LTSA is challenging for both employers and individuals. Our Employment team regularly advises on LTSA, related processes and how to handle these delicate situations. For further assistance, please contact Rosie Moore.

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