21 January 2015 16:44

Part-time sick pay is needed for employees with fluctuating health conditions, say researchers. 

A report by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation calls on the government to support measures that increase the flexibility of sickness absence policies, allowing employees with fluctuating health conditions to arrange part-time sick leave.

The researchers also recommend that the scope of income protection insurance be further developed so that businesses can better support those with fluctuating conditions remain in work.

The Work Foundation’s new Health at Work Policy Unit has explored the challenges faced by employers in managing a workforce where the prevalence of chronic and fluctuating conditions is set to rise to around 40 per cent of the UK’s working age population by 2030.

The report argues that people with conditions that fluctuate – such as asthma, depression or rheumatoid arthritis – too often receive support which varies in quality. It makes the case that the NHS, the welfare system and modern workplaces need to do much more to support people living with these conditions have active, high quality and fulfilling working lives.

The ‘part-time sick pay’ system (which already operates in the Nordic countries) is designed to support people with temporarily reduced work capability remain in work by making sick pay arrangements more flexible.

Trials in Finland have found that those with musculoskeletal disorders had 20% fewer work disability days over the following year than those on normal sick leave. In addition, on average, those taking partial sick leave returned to their normal working duties eight days earlier than those on normal sick leave.

Other key recommendations include:

  • Improving and expanding Access to Work’s provision for fluctuating conditions
  • Developing an employee owned ‘health at work’ record
  • Developing a ‘best practice’ database of adjustments and supports for people with fluctuating conditions
  • Improving access to specialist occupational health support for small business through partnership with NHS and other providers
  • Increasing local commissioning of occupational health and vocational rehabilitation support

Lead author Karen Steadman said: “Fluctuating health conditions are a very real threat to the sustainability of the UK workforce and the resilience of UK businesses. It is our hope that government heeds this warning and takes action to support employers in developing businesses that reflect the needs of the workforce, ensuring their productivity into the future.

“The introduction of statutory part-time sick pay and growing income protection would go a long way to supporting those with fluctuating conditions. However, it is essential that government also impacts upon workplace culture and practice to ensure that employers fulfil their obligations to help their employees.”

Liz Sayce, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This report is very timely. Many (though not all) employers have grasped their obligation to make workplace adjustments for people with stable impairments – for instance, providing chairs or adjustable desk heights for people with specific physical impairments. But when it comes to the rights of people with an impairment that changes week to week – or hour to hour – it’s a different story.

“People’s rights to adjustments are often ignored, and government programmes are not geared up to work effectively. Many of our members tell us they want to work but need flexibility and tailored support to do so – and with that support, could avoid long-term unemployment. For others, pain or fatigue are ongoing and just vary in intensity and working in traditional employment settings would be difficult or impossible.

“This report analyses policy solutions. It recognises the key role that Access to Work could play, including by supporting employers to hire temporary staff to cover absence when individuals need the time off. I hope this report will lead to the debate and action that the issue deserves.”