Employee Benefits Summit 2008: Government backs service to help employers tackle absence

Employers could receive support from the government to help get employees back to work and reduce absence levels when its response to Dame Carol Black’s review is published later this year.†

Speaking in a panel debate on ‘Delivering a wellbeing strategy to support the strategic development of the business’, Will Cavendish, director of health and wellbeing at the UK Department of Health, said that promoting employee health was becoming a more serious consideration for both the prime minister and ministers.†

He said: “What employers can do to support employees’ health [and wellbeing] benefits society more widely so we will be looking at that.” One option that is currently being developed is an early intervention service for employers that can provide health and employment advice once an employee has gone off sick, with the aim of helping them return to work as soon as possible.†

Cavendish said that this would need to be flexible enough to address a wide range of causes of absence, not just illness, for example, by helping staff with financial difficulties such as not being able to meet mortgage repayments to access the relevant help. He added that the government also wanted to look at current anomalies in how some wellbeing perks, such as gym membership, were taxed.†

The panel also discussed how it was important even for organisations with low levels of sickness absence to tackle cases of absence and invest in keeping employees at work. Another concern was that employees who are prone to ill-health could be forced out of employment.†

To prevent this from happening, Vicki Broadhurst, health matters manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said that employers should work with these employees in order to make reasonable adjustments to help them remain in work. In some cases, employees may benefit from receiving more education around wellbeing issues.†

Val Carter, corporate responsibility director at Aramark, said: “I think people show apathy when they don’t really understand.”