Sickness absence policies should be 'more flexible' - report

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The government should make sickness absence policies ‘more flexible' to allow employees with fluctuating health conditions to pre-emptively arrange part-time sick leave, a report has urged.

The report, Fluctuating Conditions, Fluctuating Support, from The Work Foundation also called for income protection to be developed further to promote wider uptake in the workplace.

Karen Steadman, researcher at The Work Foundation and lead author of the report said: 'The introduction of statutory part-time sick pay and growing income protection would go a long way to supporting those with fluctuating conditions."

The research also suggested the creation of an evidence base to measure the effectiveness of rehabilitation services offered as part of income protection policies.

For those living with conditions where the symptoms fluctuate, such as asthma, depression or rheumatoid arthritis the quality of support received is often inconsistent, the report highlighted.  

The prevalence of chronic and fluctuating conditions is set to rise to around 40% of the UK's working age population by 2030.

The report's authors also noted an example of ‘part-time sick pay' systems in Nordic countries.

Trials in Finland have found that those with musculoskeletal disorders had 20% less work disability days over the following year than those on normal sick leave.

 On average, those taking partial sick leave returned to their normal working duties eight days earlier than those on normal sick-leave.

Other key recommendations from the report included:

• Improving and expanding Access to Work's provision for fluctuating conditions
• Developing an employee owned ‘health at work' record
• Developing a ‘best practice' database of adjustments and supports for people with fluctuating conditions
• Improving access to specialist occupational health support for small business through partnership with NHS and other providers
• Increasing local commissioning of occupational health and vocational rehabilitation support

John Letizia, director of Public Affairs and CSR at Unum said: "The Work Foundation recognises that government action to increase the number of people with income protection would be good for employers, good for their staff and good for the taxpayer. Insurance companies can do more though.

"Unum is calling on the government to introduce temporary tax relief for SME employers who offer all employees income protection."

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: 'This report is very timely. Many (though not all) employers have grasped their obligation to make workplace adjustments for people with stable impairments - for instance, providing chairs or adjustable desk heights for people with specific physical impairments. But when it comes to the rights of people with an impairment that changes week to week - or hour to hour - it's a different story.

She added: "This report analyses policy solutions. It recognises the key role that Access to Work could play, including by supporting employers to hire temporary staff to cover absence when individuals need the time off. I hope this report will lead to the debate and action that the issue deserves."

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