Risks for irresponsible employees

Are employers forgetting their responsibilities and ignoring the help group income protection cover can provide, asks Paul Avis, sales and marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance

The cross-government Health, Work and Well-being Strategy Unit (HWWB) in conjunction with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has recently revealed some startling figures following their health and well-being survey of employers.

The survey found that 21 per cent of employers do not have a system in place for recording sickness absence and two thirds take no action to help employees with health problems stay in work or make a return after an absence.

In addition, 83 per cent of employers said they do not provide any stress management advice or support measures. Yet our research shows that more than 10 per cent of employees are feeling ’a lot more’ stressed than they were 12 months go with almost 50 per cent being ’more stressed’ illustrating the need for support here.

Only a small majority of employers surveyed felt that the ’financial benefits of investing in employee health and well-being outweighed the costs’. Yet, with the cost of 150m-plus lost working days a year costing the economy a fortune, employers cannot afford to ignore the issue.

The 2010 Equality Act strengthened individuals’ rights but SMEs may have difficulty fully understanding their responsibilities in ensuring there is no discrimination against their workers on the grounds of disability.

Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled people. This legislation covers not only people who have physical disabilities, but also those who have mental issues, like stress or depression, affecting their ability to carry out their jobs.

Furthermore, the removal of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) means that unless an employer can objectively justify a compulsory retirement age the only legitimate ways in which an employee will leave service are resignation, redundancy and dismissal for misconduct/capability issues.

Employers cannot legitimately dismiss someone simply because they are sick, without making suitable efforts to get the person back into work, including reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

So why are employers adopting an ostrich-like approach? Perhaps dealing with all these issues seems too complex and the solutions too costly? This is an area in which group income protection can offer real benefits. GIP cover costs as little as £75 per employee per year for basic cover, rising to just under £500 for a five star package. It should be a priority purchase.

GIP is designed to provide employee benefits if they are off work due to long term sickness. It takes the pressure off the employer if an employee is genuinely unable to work due to incapacity or disability. By remaining in service, the employee continues to be covered by the private medical and death benefit schemes the employer provides at a time when they are most needed.

GIP schemes now provide much more than this with many additional services offered by insurers that will help prevent and manage absence including employer helplines, second opinion services to support clinical certainty and vocational rehabilitation.

Claims management provides work reintegration through medically-endorsed return to work plans to help employees return and look at adjustments and adaptations to the workplace to achieve this.

Absence management programmes help employers through early intervention services which help resolve sickness absence at an early stage – the earlier absence is identified and support provided, the more likely it is that the employee will make a successful return to work.

There are benefits in place to assist employees too. Employee assistance programmes offer information and support on a wide range of topics that focus on the end goal of helping the employee lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In addition to the “mental health and stress in the workplace” figures FirstAssist 2010 research shows that 52 per cent of their EAP users claim that without help their concerns would have caused them to miss work, illustrating the importance of utilising these value-adds.

Employee absence costs are such that employers would do well to invest in measures to either prevent it in the first place, or else to make sure they have procedures in place to assist employees in their rehabilitation, helping them back to work as soon as possible. GIP is a great start point on both.