Despite employment rates being at its highest, there is still a gap between the employment of disabled people compared to those who are non-disabled. A government consultation paper launched earlier this week revealed that 300,000 disabled people leave work every year and that disabled people are 10 times more likely to leave work following long-term sickness absence than non-disabled people.

The government has recognised that it needs to work closely with employers to change the workplace environment for disabled people and those with long-term health conditions especially when considering the health challenges facing an ageing society.

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, commented:

“We need to remove the barriers that stop people with disabilities or health conditions from reaching their full potential – these steps will achieve that”.

The consultation paper set out a number of proposals, some of which are detailed below:

  • The right to request work place modifications

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees in the workplace. Effective adjustment modifications are not limited to the employee’s working environment but it can include changes to hours, tasks or phased returns to work.

Sainsbury’s is an example of an employer that is already embracing dialogue around work place modifications. The company has coordinated listening groups to encourage employees to challenge assumptions about disabled people and discuss work place adjustments that benefit both the company and the individual.

The government is now seeking views on whether to introduce a right to request work(place) modifications on health grounds which would extend the scope of the current duty. The right would be supported by a code of practice and would be in addition to but separate from the duty to make reasonable adjustments

  • Reforming Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) so that it is more flexible and available to low paid employee

Currently, to qualify for SSP, an individual must:

  • Be an employee (agency workers are also entitled to SSP)
  • Earn at least £118 per week
  • Have been ill for at least four consecutive days in a row (including non-working days)

Individuals that meet this criteria are awarded with SSP which is £94.25 a week or, an employer’s sick pay scheme if this is more. The maximum amount of time to claim SSP is 28 weeks.

The government is now looking to (1) extend SSP eligibility to those earning below the current threshold, (2) amend the rules of SSP to allow for phased returns to work following sickness absence and (3) strengthen the compliance and enforcement of SSP. This could be good news for gig economy workers who receive little or no sick pay from their employers!

  • Improving access to occupational health (“OH”)

The government has recognised that OH advice is effective in supporting returns to work, now, it wants more people to have access to OH services. The consultation paper notes that smaller business cite cost as a barrier to implementing OH services.

The government is now seeking views on options to reduce the cost for smaller businesses.

  • Strengthening statutory guidance to encourage employers to support employees early on in their sickness absence

The government notes that lack of support from an employer can be a significant factor in prolonging long-term sickness absence. International models of managing sickness absence place more obligations on the employer to provide support to employees in the work place.

In Germany, all employers are obliged to offer an internal occupational reintegration programme to help identify challenges for workers returning from long-term sickness absence. Employers also have a duty to speak with employees off sick for more than 6 weeks to identify work-related barriers and discuss possible resolutions.

The government is looking to strengthen statutory guidance to encourage employers to take steps to support sick employees to return to work. This would prevent dismissals on the grounds of ill-health affecting their capability.

The consultation closes on 7 October 2019.

To read more about the proposals outlined in this blog, follow the link here: