1. Proposals to extend statutory sick pay to workers below the lower earnings threshold
As reported in the BBC news this July (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48983750), the government has launched a consultation (Health is everyone’s business) on extending statutory sick pay (SSP) to workers who earn less than the lower earnings threshold (which is currently £118 per week) and to make SSP more flexible to apply during phased returns to work, as it seeks to reduce the number of people resigning from employment after a period of sickness.
Other proposals the government is inviting views on, as part of this consultation on SSP, include:
- Introducing a new right to request workplace modifications for all employees suffering from health conditions and not just those who are deemed to be disabled where the duty to make reasonable adjustments applies.
- Introducing a sick pay rebate for SME's to help them support individuals with disabilities or long-term conditions return to work.
- Pro-rating SSP to ensure that employees can agree a phased return to work without being financially worse off.
The government’s publication on its consultation recognises that SME’s, which account for over 99.9% of all private sector businesses in the UK, make a valuable contribution to creating healthy and inclusive workplaces.
A major report published by the Federation of Small Businesses this year (Small Business, Big Heart: Bringing Communities Together) and cited in the government’s publication, reveals that half of all employed disabled people work in small businesses (which is defined as those with fewer than 50 employees). Small employers with a disabled employee, or an employee with a health condition, are more likely to provide flexible working to all of their employees. Despite this evidence of good practice, the report also finds evidence of gaps in the support available for small businesses. For example, the report finds that almost 10% of small employers do not take action to manage employees’ return to work after long-term sickness absence and that only 21% of small employers provide occupational health to their employees, compared with 92% of large employers.
The FSB’s policy recommendations to the government on supporting work and health for small business employers, as set out in the FSB’s report, are:
- That the UK government should raise awareness e.g. by exempting small businesses with less than 50 employees from employer contributions to the Access to Work scheme.
- Introducing a 1-year’s employer NIC holiday for small businesses employing people with disabilities and mental health conditions.
- That SSP should be reformed to incentivise employers to engage in good practice in helping their employees return to the workplace. That the SSP Percentage Threshold Scheme, whereby employers used to be able to recover some of the SSP paid to their employees from the government, should be reinstated, possibly linking recovery of SSP for small firms to those demonstrating good practice in helping employees return to the workplace e.g. through a phased return to work.
- Introducing tax breaks to incentivise small firms to use occupational health.
- The government has launched a consultation for proposals for a new single labour market enforcement body. The proposed new enforcement body would enforce payment of the minimum wage (which is currently enforced by HMRC), labour exploitation and modern slavery, along with holiday payments for “vulnerable workers” and safeguarding agency workers. The objective of creating a new single labour market enforcement body is to make it easier for individuals to know where to go for help and to provide better support to businesses to assist them in complying with the law.
- The government has also opened a consultation (One-sided Flexibility: addressing unfair flexible working practices) on introducing legislation to address the misuse of flexible working arrangements, which create unpredictability in working hours, income insecurity and a reluctance among workers (typically zero hour workers) to assert basic employment rights.
2. Proposals for a new labour market enforcement body and for new legislation for zero hour workers to address “one-sided flexibility”
This consultation seeks views on:
- providing a right to reasonable notice of working hours;
- providing workers with compensation for shifts cancelled without reasonable notice; and
- introducing government guidance for employers as a means of tackling the problem of one-sided flexibility.
The government has already announced it will introduce legislation in the future to give workers who do not work fixed hours a right to request a contract with more stable and predictable hours of work.
FSB members can have their say on issues affecting small businesses by registering online to join Big Voice (https://www.fsb.org.uk/benefits/support/big-voice). This is a free to join, online community for our FSB members. This evidence is used to support the FSB’s lobbying and helps shape the laws affecting small businesses.