Union leaders have expressed concerns that new sickness recommendations could see people being forced back into the office too quickly, doing them more harm than good in the long term.
An independent review has stated that the current system makes it too difficult for people to return to work after a period off on long-term sick, with some people being “pushed away” from the office.
It suggested that the government adopt a new Independent Assessment Service which employers and GPs can refer long-term sickness cases to for advice.
Other recommendations include suggesting that those on long-term sick leave should be matched with more appropriate jobs rather than left to fall out of work while generous public sector sick pay schemes could come under review. It was also suggested that employers that spend on medical treatments or workplace rehabilitation schemes should be offered tax relief.
A controversial suggestion stated that employment law should be changed to allow companies to dismiss workers on long-term sick leave without risk of being sued if they negotiate a one-off payment.
Business leaders have welcomed the suggestion, stating that many firms find the current regulations burdensome.
John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The existing ‘fit note’ system does not work for business. Since employers want individuals back in the workplace as soon as they are able, the proposal for a thorough assessment at four weeks will boost employer confidence.”
However, union leaders, including Brandon Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, has said that there is no nee for such a drastic overhaul and suggested that the new system could be manipulated by “rogue employers” who want to force staff back to work earlier than they should.
“The report also fails to address the huge issue of ‘presenteeism’ where workers come in to work when they should be off sick, despite evidence that this is a major and growing problem in the workplace,” he noted.