A consultation will look at whether to extend Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to people earning less than £118 a week
The UK’s 2million low-paid workers could qualify for sick pay for the first time, the government claims today as it launches plans to overhaul the system.
Other proposals include offering small firms a “sick pay rebate” to reward bosses who help employees on sick leave back into work.
And the consultation will look at strengthening legal guidance for firms to take “early, proportionate and reasonable” steps to help employees back to work – before dismissal on health grounds.
Eligibility and rules for sick pay could also be clarified, the benefit could become more flexible to allowed phased returns to work, and enforcement could be strengthened, officials claim.
The DWP said more than 100,000 people a year currently leave their job after being off sick for at least four weeks, and 44% who have been off for a year leave employment altogether.
The consultation has been announced days before a new Prime Minister takes office – leaving doubt over how far its results will be implemented.
It has been launched jointly by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who could be moved from their posts within weeks in a Cabinet reshuffle.
There will also be a focus on mental illness. At the moment physical and mental health conditions are currently covered under sick pay but people with mental health conditions are less likely to receive modifications to help them stay in work.
The new proposals include a right to request these modifications, similar to the right to request flexible working.
Ms Rudd added: ‘I want Britain to be an environment where disabled people and those with health conditions can thrive, not just survive – not only in work but every area of their lives.’
Mr Hancock added: “We need to remove the barriers that stop people with disabilities or health conditions from reaching their full potential – these steps will help us achieve that.”
Statutory sick pay is paid by employers and is worth a flat rate of £94.25 a week for up to 28 weeks.
The lower earnings limit is designed to stop workers earning more while off sick than they would if they returned to their job.
Employers and health providers will be asked for their views on how to improve current employment legislation and this could potentially be amended to encourage employers to intervene earlier. Some campaigners are concerned the cap on the length of time a person can claim sick pay (maximum of 28 weeks) will not be changed.
Chief executive at disability equality charity Scope Mark Hodgkinson said: ‘The Statutory Sick Pay system is out of date, inflexible and poorly enforced, so it’s great news that government is consulting. ‘But current flaws in the system with the level and length of SSP provided aren’t included.
Disabled people would still face the stark choice between working when unwell or struggling to make ends meet.
If it is approved, the change would make anyone who earns less than £118 a week eligible for sick pay equal to 80% of their wage.