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Sickness absence and fluctuating health conditions

23 January 2015

New report advocates part-time sick pay is needed for employees with fluctuating health conditions

Fluctuating conditions, fluctuating support: Improving organisational resilience to fluctuating conditions in the workforce, a report by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation calls on the government to support measures that increase the flexibility of sickness absence policies.

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.”

The report recommendations include:

  • allowing employees with fluctuating health conditions to arrange part-time sick leave.
  • widening the scope of income protection insurance so that businesses can better support those with fluctuating conditions to remain in work.
  • 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

The ‘part-time sick pay’ system already operates in the Nordic countries. 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.