When I first entered the reward profession, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) had just been introduced. To be honest, apart from a few tweaks here and there, the regime has not changed that much. However, I have changed and so have working practices, governments and their policies.
So, in recognition, in October 2016 the UK government published a Green Paper (consultation) called ‘Work, health and disability: improving lives’. The aim of this was to ‘transform the employment prospects of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions’. The paper stated that the disability employment gap was too wide and the quality of life indicators were lower for people who had long-term health conditions. It covered three main areas:
This was a very interesting and admirable read, made somewhat confusing given that health is a devolved issue. Therefore, some of the proposed reforms applied to England only. However, a topic that is very relevant to the reward profession is the UK-wide SSP system. Essentially, the paper recognised that getting people back into the workplace was essential and the SSP system did not support this policy intention. So, it suggested reforms:
Employers are sometimes reluctant to contact employees during long-term sickness for fear of disturbing what they perceive as an employee entitlement (i.e. a statutory entitlement to be sick and not contacted). This lack of communication could be a barrier to the employee and employer coming to an arrangement that would facilitate a return to the workplace sooner.
Therefore, the paper suggested clarifying the guidance on communication during sickness.
The paper said that it is common for employers to allow phased returns to work for employees who have had long periods of sickness. However, a barrier to this was the inflexible way in which SSP halts as soon as the employee performs any work under the employment contract.
So, to support employers, employees and phased returns, it proposed that SSP be allowed to be paid flexibly in line with a phased return.
This talked of another method of supporting phased returns, whereby the employer would be allowed to ‘top-up’ the SSP of an employee that ceases to be entitled. Such a regime could encourage more phased returns by removing the barrier of the employee potentially suffering financially.
The UK government issued a Command Paper, detailing its proposals following the ideas put forward from the 2016 Green Paper/consultation. This is entitled Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability and covers more than SSP. However, some of the focuses will not apply UK-wide, which is why I am only mentioning the potential reforms to SSP that could be on the horizon.
This says that the UK government will:
Further to the publication of the Command Paper on 30 November 2017, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, announced the closure of the Fit for Work referral and assessment service – in England and Wales (from 15 December 2017) and in Scotland from 31 May 2018. Although, the advice and guidance elements will remain.
The Command Paper contained no firm proposals on flexible SSP and the substantial legislative, administrative and software issues this will bring. However, it did announce that a consultation will be issued in 2018 to discuss and comment on reforming the SSP system so that it supports phased returns from sickness. In the UK government’s own words:
“We want to see a reformed SSP system which supports more flexible working – for example, to help support phased returns to work including spacing out working days during a return to work, managing a long-term health condition, or recovering from illness.”
It is important to say that both the Green Paper and the Command Paper are not all about reforms to the SSP system. They both look at a number of measures that will support employees with health conditions and the employers that employ them.
With regard to possible changes to the SSP system though, we do need to keep an eye out for this 2018 consultation. This is regardless of the fact that an employer may have an occupational sickness scheme.
Reforms are coming and it is right that SSP is reformed and brought into line with modern working practices. It is also right that as UK reward professionals we have our say in ensuring that it is reformed into a system that actually works for employees and employers. When the consultation comes, we have a professional responsibility to look at it, digest it and respond.