Helping long-term sick employees back to work 

There are now over 2.5 million people who are classed as being absent from work on a long-term basis in the UK and the number is unfortunately rising. The symptoms of long Covid and a deterioration in mental health are major factors in record numbers being unable to work. The cost to the economy is estimated at £150bn and is having a huge impact on businesses.

The role of an employer in occupational health

Whitehall has launched a consultation on the role that an employer’s occupational health (OH) provision can play. (The consultation closes on 12 October 2023.) Several proposals are being considered by the government. Many of these could have an impact on businesses. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for business owners. Employers with good OH or outsourced provision could be rewarded.

Proposals under consideration 

  • Tax incentives to encourage SMEs to provide OH services
  • OH provision legislation
  • Employees automatically enrolled into OH services
  • Determining minimum standards of OH provision
  • Using a multi-tier accreditation scheme
  • Corporate reporting of OH provision

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. OH is concerned with the prevention of ill health in the workplace and dealing with health issues brought on by work. At present, there is no UK law that requires an employer to provide OH services. That being said, in today’s world businesses should provide OH support and advice (something Blossom HR can help with). The simple and important aim of an OH service is to keep employees healthy.

A business which fails to provide an adequate OH service may well suffer from increased levels of staff absence, low staff morale and inferior performance.

How employers can help long-term sick employees 

Prevention is better than cure. Regular communication with staff is key as it can help nip potential problems in the bud. An employer also needs to have a robust sickness policy and absence management policy in place. Furthermore, offering flexible working and being open to changing working patterns on a temporary basis can help those in work and those off sick.

It is inevitable that at some stage an employer will have an employee who is on sickness absence. How the employee is treated and communicated with can have a huge bearing on when they return to work.

  • Ensure an appropriate person makes contact
  • Make contact at a reasonable time 
  • Be sure to check on the wellbeing of the employee 
  • Agree the best way to keep in touch and the frequency 

If an employee has been absent for several weeks, a suitable return to work plan will need to be agreed and put in place. This may need to encompass advice from medical professionals and/or healthcare providers. There is more information in our blog.

There are various positive ways that Blossom HR can help businesses with these complicated matters. These include; managing the process, implementing policies, putting in place adjustments to support employees to enable them to return to work and also being an impartial, independent HR consultant who the individual may feel more open to discussing their illness with.  Also, don’t forget that if you have an employee who has been absent from work for a long period of time, Blossom HR can support the business with following the capability/ill health route which may result in the employee being dismissed.  You need to be very careful pursuing this route, especially if an employee has an underlying medical condition or disability, so it’s well worth taking advantage of the complimentary half an hour if you need to address the situation.

It will be interesting to see how the government moves the issue of occupational health provision forward. Changes need to be made. In the 3 months from February to April 2023, another 580,000 people in the UK joined the ranks of the long-term sick…that is a lot more working hours and productivity lost. 

For more information and HR guidance, please get in touch.