As part of moves to get the UK economy off its sick bed and back to rude health, the Government has issued proposals to tackle long-term sickness absence in the workplace through the launch of a scheme which, it claims, will save employers up to £160 million a year in statutory sick pay and increase economic output by up to £900 million a year – nothing to sneeze at!

The revelation that ill health among those of working age costs the country £100 billion each year can’t help but leave you feeling slightly queasy.  Sickened by the news, the UK Government commissioned an independent review into workplace absence.  The Government’s response to that review, titled “Fitness for Work”,[1] sets out proposals to help employers get employees back to work and away from a culture of long-term sickness benefits, including:

  • New guidance in the coming months on ‘fit notes’, amid concern that too many GP notes are certifying employees unfit to work where, in reality, they may be fit to work in general and simply unable to carry out specific functions or a particular role.
  • Employers will be able to send employees to state-funded assessments carried out by occupational health professionals to support their recovery.
  • From 2014 employers of all sizes will be able to access independent Government funded advice to help them manage sickness absence whenever an employee is off sick for more than four weeks.
  • The possibility (to be considered further in the 2013 budget) of tax relief on expenditure by employers aimed at keeping sick employees in work (or speeding up their return to work) such as an employee’s medical treatment.
  • Scrapping the obligation to keep statutory sick pay records in favour of an approach that lets employers keep records in the manner that works best for their business.

Chris Williams

[1] The new “Fitness for Work” note published by the UK Department for Work & Pensions on 7 March 2013 is available at