As the economic times send employee sickness rates upwards, what should brokers be doing with the Sickness Absence Review in mind? Philip Wood examines the facts.
Last year's Sickness Absence Review explored how today's sickness absence system could be changed to help people stay in work. This is in order to combat the staggering £100bn that working-age ill health costs the economy every year.
Its aim was to make recommendations that would reduce the cost of sickness absence for businesses and contribute to economic growth. In addition, it examined whether the balance of this cost is appropriately shared between individuals, employers and the welfare state.
The Review revealed the cost of sickness absence to the British economy currently stands at about £15bn a year. These startling figures also show that 150 million working days are lost each year to sickness absence - this equates to about six days for each worker in the space of just 12 months.
The headline recommendations to come out of the Review have been fairly well documented. But what do they actually mean for employers, employees and brokers advising with the Review's authors David Frost and Dame Carol Black's recommendations in mind?
It made recommendations to the government on implementing tactics that would reduce long-term sickness absence and dissuade people from moving out of work and into worklessness - something which places significant strain on the welfare state.
In terms of healthcare, the Review also outlined three key proposals:
■ Employers should provide tax-advantaged Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to help speed a sick employee's return to work
■ EAPs and the use of 24-hour helplines can help better support staff suffering from stress and mental health issues, both of which are among the main causes of sickness absence, and
■ Many experts now report that the economic downturn has exacerbated workplace stress and mental health problems. What is more, they suggest that modern working practices mean this trend is set to continue. According to recent research, 85% of workers perceive their job to be stressful - double the number reported 20 years ago.
A fine line
There is a fine line between positive and negative stress levels. Employers can often be placed in a tricky situation, in legal terms, when it comes to managing mental health issues in the workplace.
Current legislation, enforced by The Equality Act 2010, prohibits them from asking about a candidate's health before offering them work. But what the Sickness Absence Review does recommend is that employers become much more involved with managing mental health issues generally.
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