June 10, 2016

Are you providing equal opportunities to employees with long-term health issues?

If employees with long term health conditions and disabilities were afforded a statutory right to return to work, just as mothers are when they have had a baby, it would improve the likelihood that they would remain in employment. This in turn would boost employment rates for disabled people, something the government has pledged to achieve.

A study by the research and policy organisation, Resolution Foundation, is calling for a 12-month ‘right to return’ period for employees with long term health condition and disabilities. That period would begin at the start of a period of absence. The Resolution Foundation says such a move would help lessen the flow of disabled people leaving the jobs market.

According to the report, called ‘Retention deficit’, a mere 2.4% of disabled people who had been out of work for longer than a year go back into employment each quarter. This figure is down from 15.5% for those who had been in a job in the last year. It is also a much sharper rate of decline than is the case for non-disabled people.

Almost half (46%) of disabled people are currently employed, compared to 80% of non-disabled people. Employers already have a duty to avoid direct and indirect discrimination against disabled people. For example, they are obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled job applicants and employees are not at a disadvantage.

If the government were to follow up on the Resolution Foundation’s recommendations, then employers would have to afford disabled people or those on long term sick leave the same rights as mothers returning from maternity leave. For instance, should they go off on sick leave, then their job, or an equivalent one, would be held open for them for six months, as is the case with new mothers. Employers would not be able to dismiss disabled people on sickness grounds within that year’s timeframe, unless the employee had actively disengaged from support and rehabilitation.

The Resolution Foundation also said that companies could be offered a rebate on statutory sick pay costs when an employee returns to work from long-term sick leave within a year.

The government has said that it wants to halve the disability employment gap and acknowledges that it is a very real challenge for the UK labour market.

According to the Resolution Foundation, when it comes to the debate about disabled people and employment, there has been far too much focus on benefits. It says the discussion needs to move away from benefits and onto employment retention and how to support disabled people to remain in work. The organisation highlighted the benefits of policies such as the Access to Work Programme, which provides grants for practical support for people with disabilities and health conditions to enter or remain in work. Also the new Fit for Work Service, an occupational health assessment for employees during periods of sickness absence.

Employers and the government need to do something. While entry rates for disabled people into employment have been improving in recent years, exit rates connected to disability and ill-health have been rising over the same period.

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