The Government has recently announced the launch of its new Health and Work Service. It will commence on a phased basis beginning in the North of England, Midlands and Wales in late 2014 and then go nationwide by May 2015.
The contract to provide the new service has been awarded to the Health Management Limited, a MAXIMUS Company.
The initiative is as a result of Dame Carol Black’s review on sickness absence in 2011 which made a number of recommendations to address workplace sickness absence. Her main recommendation was to introduce a government funded occupational health assessment service for employees who are off sick or are expected to be off sick for a period of 4 weeks or more.
In its press release launching the new service, the Government stated that almost 1 million employees were on sick leave for a month or more each year on average between September 2010 and October 2013. It has estimated that employers face an annual bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs with the state spending around £12 billion a year on health related benefits plus £2 billion a year on healthcare and foregone taxes.
How will the new Health and Work Service work?
An employee will normally be referred to the new service by their GP for an occupational health assessment when the employee reaches or is expected to reach a period of four weeks sickness absence.
A case manager will be available to support the employee through the assessment procedure and identify appropriate steps to get the employee back to work.
The occupational health assessment will lead to a return to work plan that will be shared with the employer and the employee’s GP. More general health and work advice will be available for employers, GP’s and employees via the telephone and website.
The new Health and Work Service is expected to be funded through the abolition of the Percentage Threshold Scheme which enables employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay where the total SSP paid in a month exceeded 13% of the employers Class 1 National Insurance Contributions for that month. The Government hopes that the new service will cut sick pay costs to business by up to £165 million pounds a year as well as an increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.
There is also planned a tax exemption of up to £500 a year for each employee on payments for medical treatments recommended by the Health and Work Service or an employer arranged occupational health service.
From the information provided to date, it is not entirely clear how the new service will work in practice. It appears that the service relies on the employee’s GP making the referral to the occupational health provider rather than the employer. Moreover, the timescale for the employer to obtain a copy of the assessment is not clear and what input the employer will have in relation to the return to work plan. There is also the possibility of the assessment conflicting with the employer’s own occupational health report
Whilst the establishment of the new Health and Work Service is to be welcomed particularly for small employers, dealing with sickness absence is likely to remain a difficult issue for employers to grapple with.
Taylor Walton can provide advice to employers in relation to employees who are on long-term sickness absence or have short term persistent sickness absence as well as provide general advice in relation to sick leave policies and procedures.
Taylor Walton’s Employment Law team regularly run free workshops on various employment law topics and issues. Our autumn programme will be introduced shortly – please see our website for more details in due course - www.taylorwalton.co.uk/events/.
Alec Colson is a Partner in the Employment Law Department at Taylor Walton LLP, which has offices in Luton, Harpenden and St Albans and provides effective legal solutions to businesses and individuals across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and the South East. Alec can be contacted on 01582 731161 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information in this article was, at the time of publication, believed to be a correct statement of the law. However, readers should seek specific legal advice on matters arising, and no responsibility can be accepted for action taken solely in reliance upon such information.