As we welcome in the fresh new year, there is a need to focus on helping employees with health issues as the NHS struggles more than ever. We highlight three areas where employers can make a real difference. Other challenges this year come from union strikes, and the government looks to balance the rights of strikers with continuing to provide minimum levels of service in specified public services in a new bill before the Commons, along with an update on the Neonatal Care Bill which covers parental leave. With people working more flexibly consultations have started on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers.
- Employee Health: Three wellbeing challenges employers will need to tackle in 2023
- Trade Unions: House of Commons library publishes briefing on Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
- Parental Leave: House of Commons publishes update on Neonatal Care Bill
- Holiday Pay: BEIS consults on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers
Employee Health: Three wellbeing challenges employers will need to tackle in 2023
Website, People Management, published an article on 20 January 2023 by Imogen Cardwell (Clinical Operations Director at PAM OH) promoting a proactive approach from employers to address health challenges facing employees including soaring cancer rates, increasing work-related illness and NHS delays. You can read the full article [here] but below is a summarised version.
She reports that with an NHS backlog of more than 7.2 million, it will impact more than a million employees, with 15 per cent of employees affected being forced to go on long-term sick leave, and 40 per cent of cancer patients are having to wait more than the 62-day target for life-saving cancer treatment . At the same time, two-fifths of employees believe work has made them sick, primarily due to work-related stress and musculoskeletal (MSK) issues. All of which means the NHS backlog, rising cancer cases and increasing work-related illness are the three major wellbeing challenges employers will need to address in 2023.
Challenge 1: Supporting employees with cancer
Employers will need to do more to support terminally ill employees to stay in work, so long as it is safe to do so. This is both a legal duty, under the Equality Act 2010, but also a moral duty. Integral to this is supporting employees by making the reasonable adjustments needed to allow them to remain in work, such as allowing flexible working or changing working hours for a period to account for someone’s needs.
Managers should be encouraged to talk to employees about what they think would help them and an occupational health clinician can also advise on appropriate adjustments that would work for the individual and business, both now and as the employee goes through important milestones and treatments.
Challenge 2: Ongoing NHS delays
Before the pandemic, employees would typically get signed off work by their GP until after they had been treated and had some post-surgery rehabilitation, which might have been around 6 weeks. With wait times of up to a year, this might not be acceptable going forward. Be aware of the risk of financial hardship, and long-term absence which has been shown to lead to lack of confidence, isolation and an increased risk of future worklessness.
Again, reasonable adjustments to help keep people in work will be critical going forward. Workplace wellbeing initiatives or occupational health advisors might also be able to support the individual with linked conditions, for example, losing weight to reduce joint pain and need for an operation.
Challenge 3: Soaring work-related illness
Days lost to work-related ill health cost billions per year, primarily work-related stress, depression or anxiety and MSK issues. What drives these issues? Employers should review their health data, including referrals to occupational health and health screening insights. As well as conduct ‘employee listening’ with surveys designed to uncover the root causes of work-related stress. This can often be addressed with workshops and manager training based on the HSE’s Management Standards for reducing stress, which look at everything from workload to working relationships.
In the case of soaring MSK issues, workplace risk assessments can be used to identify where employees are setting themselves up for future injury. While body mapping workshops, where employees place stickers on body maps to reveal where they have injuries or niggles, can also be used. These encourage employees to share tips and advice with one another on how they’re using the same equipment, or doing the same job, in a way that prevents injury. As it’s often the smallest behavioural changes that make the biggest difference.
A free guide to Health at Work is available from PAM Wellbeing here.
Trade Unions: House of Commons library publishes briefing on Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
The House of Commons (HoC) Library has published a research briefing on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which was introduced to the House of Commons and given its first reading on 10 January 2023. The Bill enables regulations to be made by the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (after consultation) setting minimum levels of service in specified public services so that those services do not completely shut down when there are strikes. For these purposes a strike does not include an overtime ban or a call-out ban. The Bill would grant the Secretary of State the power to set ‘minimum service regulations’ that could set minimum service levels for workers during strikes in the following sectors:
• health services
• fire and rescue services
• education services
• transport services
• decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel
• border security.
The Bill grants employers the power to give a ‘work notice’ to a trade union about any strike that affects a service subject to the Bill. The notice would have to specify which workers the employer to continue work in order to ensure service levels required by the minimum service regulations. Where a union fails to ‘take reasonable steps’ to ensure compliance with the work notice it loses protection from liability. Furthermore, the Bill removes automatic protection from unfair dismissal for any employee who strikes contrary to a valid work notice.
The second reading of the Bill was due to take place on 16 January 2023.
Parental Leave: House of Commons publishes update on Neonatal Care Bill
The House of Commons (HoC) has published a briefing paper on the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill 2022–23, which was introduced by Stuart C McDonald MP as a Private Member’s Bill on 15 June 2022.
The Bill would introduce neonatal care leave and statutory neonatal care pay. As these are both new rights, they require the Minister to pass regulations to bring them into force. Parents whose children spend at least one week in neonatal care would qualify for the day one right to neonatal leave. The duration of the leave and when it must be taken would be set by regulations. It would be a minimum of one week and the period in which it could be availed of would last a minimum of 67 weeks starting from the date of the child’s birth. Employees with at least 26 weeks continuous service can avail of neonatal care pay during periods of neonatal leave. While limit and duration of pay would be set by regulations the minimum limit that could be claimed would be a minimum of 12 weeks.
There have been calls since 2014 for such a bill to be introduced. Following a consultation, the Government committed to introduce neonatal care and pay in March 2020. This was reiterated by the then Labour Markets Minister Paul Scully when he was responding to a parliamentary question on 25 May 2022. All MP’s who spoke during the second reading of the Bill were in favour of it passing. Similarly, all contributions at committee stage were in favour of the Bill and all amendments were accepted. However, concerns over the length of time the government were taking to implement the Bill were also raised.
Holiday Pay: BEIS consults on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is conducting a consultation on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers based on the annual hours they work. The consultation follows the recent Supreme Court judgment in Harpur Trust v Brazel  IRLR 67.
As part of the consultation, BEIS proposes to introduce a holiday entitlement reference period for part-year and irregular hours workers. BEIS wants to ensure that holiday pay and entitlement is directly proportionate to the time part-year and irregular hours staff are working. The consultation also aims to understand how entitlement is currently calculated for agency workers and how the consultation proposal could be implemented.
The consultation may be of interest and impact employers, workers, business representative groups, unions, and those representing the interests of groups in the labour market.
Further information regarding the Calculating holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers Consultation can be accessed here. The Proposal to simplify Holiday Pay and Entitlement Consultation Impact Assessment can be accessed here.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: email@example.com
This month the news is full of diversity and equality – calls to support and engage on a wide range of matters such as neurodiversity, LGBTQ+ and race and ethnicity. There is also a focus on health – with updates on fit notes to calls for action on mental health and menopause.
- Diversity: Neurodiversity in Business forum launched to support neurodiverse employees
- Diversity & Equality: Government’s LGBT+ Business Champion issues call to engage
- Equality: Government publishes response to Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report
- Health: Fit notes may be issued digitally without a wet-ink signature from 6 April 2022
- Mental Health: DHSC publishes discussion paper and call for evidence
- Menopause: Workplace pledge signed by over 600 employers
Diversity: Neurodiversity in Business forum launched to support neurodiverse employees
On 21 March 2022, Neurodiversity in Business (NiB) was launched at the Houses of Parliament to support neurodiverse employees in the workplace. Between 15% and 20% of the population are estimated to be neurodivergent. Dan Harris, Chief executive of NiB, states that although employers increasingly recognise the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce, neurodivergent employees need improved support. NiB and founding members, such as Accenture, AstraZeneca, Bank of England, Capita, Network Rail, Sky and Unilever, recognise that reasonable modifications can enable more neurodiversity in the workplace and also benefit sustainability. The new forum will work with organisations that support neurodiversity including Auticon, Ambitious about Autism, the ADHD Foundation, the British Dyslexia Association, Diversity and Ability and the National Autistic Society.
Diversity & Equality: Government’s LGBT+ Business Champion issues call to engage
On 18 March 2022, the government’s LGBT+ Business Champion, Iain Anderson, issued a call to engage to employers, staff networks, trade unions and civil society organisations with practical experience of creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, supporting LGBT+ inclusion and improving outcomes and experiences for LGBT+ people. He is looking for practical examples that work of what businesses are doing to improve LGBT+ outcomes and experiences in the workplace. The call to engage is not for personal experiences or views.
The questions ask for information on the following issues:
- The collection of LGBT+ diversity and inclusion data and how effective this has been.
- How organisations have been able to improve the outcomes and experiences of LGBT+ employees in the workplace and how effective this has been. Where possible, respondents are asked to disaggregate measures taken in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans employees.
- In countries where LGBT+ people routinely experience discrimination, what organisations are doing to support the safety and advocacy of LGBT+ staff.
- How organisations can have a positive social and economic impact on LGBT+ equality, including in countries where LGBT+ people routinely experience discrimination. In particular, comments are welcomed on impacts outside the organisation, for example, having a positive influence through supply chains, distributors and customers.
The consultation closes on 28 April 2022.
Equality: Government publishes response to Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report
On 17 March, the government has published its response to the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities made a number of recommendations to address ethnic and racial disparities across society. The response confirms that mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting will not be introduced. However, organisations who choose to publish their figures will be required to publish a “diagnosis and action plan“, setting out reasons why disparities exist and what will be done to address them. Guidance on voluntary ethnicity pay gap reporting, to be published in summer 2022, will be designed to help employers address some of the challenges around ethnicity pay gap reporting. It will include case studies drawn from organisations which have already chosen to report on their ethnicity pay, setting a benchmark for what a good action plan might cover.
The report also tackles the use of artificial intelligence in recruitment processes and automated decision-making. A white paper, to be published later in the year, will deal with how to address potential racial bias in algorithmic decision-making. To ensure technological advances do not have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups, the EHRC will advise on the safeguards needed and issue guidance that explains how to apply the Equality Act 2010 to algorithmic decision-making.
The government has accepted the Commission’s recommendation that the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) is unhelpful, and it has stopped using the term in its own communications. It is more productive to consider the disparities and outcomes of specific ethnic, rather than homogenous, groups. Where it is absolutely necessary to draw a binary distinction between the ethnic majority and ethnic minorities, the government will use the term “people from ethnic minority backgrounds“. The response also states that terms such as “white privilege” can be seen as stigmatising and potentially divisive, as they have the unintended consequence of pitting groups against each other.
The response includes a package of other measures designed to improve diversity and inclusion, including additional funding for the EHRC, an “Inclusion at Work Panel” which will disseminate diversity resources to employers, and updated guidance for employers on positive action, to be published by the end of the year.
Health: Fit notes may be issued digitally without a wet-ink signature from 6 April 2022
In its July 2021 response to the 2019 consultation document “Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss“, the government committed to removing the statutory obstacles to the digital issuing of fit notes. Currently, fit notes must be signed in ink by the issuing doctor, although given the significant shift to virtual GP consultations since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increasing demand for fit notes to be provided digitally.
The Social Security (Medical Evidence) and Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/298) were made on 14 March 2022 and come into force on 6 April 2022. They amend the Social Security (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1976 (SI 1976/615) and the Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1985 (SI 1985/1604). The new Regulations prescribe a new form of fit note, which will be used in parallel with the existing version of the form. The Regulations remove the requirement for the fit note to be signed in ink and the new form of fit note no longer contains a signature box.
Mental Health: DHSC publishes discussion paper and call for evidence
The Department for Health and Social Care has published a discussion paper and call for evidence on improving mental health and wellbeing, which includes the development of a ten-year plan to reduce the prevalence, incidence and recurrence of mental ill-health.
The discussion paper suggests compassionate employers are needed, who will protect and promote positive mental wellbeing by understanding and meeting physical and mental needs in the workplace. Two key challenges that were identified through the Thriving at Work are reiterated in the document:
- the need for a clear role for employers to prevent the onset of mental health conditions and mental ill-health, and
- wider implementation of workplace interventions to support mental health.
The role for employers to support mental wellbeing is further highlighted in the discussion around early intervention. Employers are identified as an important source of support for employees who may not need “clinical” early interventions. This section also highlights that in those instances, employers may need support and information to provide support for a distressed employee.
The consultation is open to all, and responses will be collected through an online survey until 11.45 pm on 5 July 2022.
Menopause: Workplace pledge signed by over 600 employers
More than 600 employers have signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, which is part of a campaign by Wellbeing of Women. In signing the pledge, employers recognise that the menopause can be a workplace issue for which employees need support. Signatories commit to open, positive and respectful workplace dialogue about the menopause and to taking active steps to support employees affected by the menopause and informing them of the support offered. Active measures have already been undertaken by some signatories: the Royal Mail has run an internal campaign to normalise conversations about the menopause, Tesco plans to incorporate a breathable fabric into its uniform to help with hot flushes, and News UK has said it will cover the cost of NHS HRT prescriptions and provide desk fans.
Last week, a survey of 1,000 HR professionals, (conducted by YouGov on behalf of Irwin Mitchell) revealed almost three-quarters of employers (72%) do not have a menopause policy and that only 16% of employers train line-managers on the menopause. The CIPD has reminded employers that positive action, such as engaging with this pledge and having a policy that outlines available support, must be “underpinned by a culture where people are actively encouraged to have open and supportive conversations“. It has its own Guidance for employers on how to better manage those affected by menopause at work, which can be accessed here.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org
This month the news highlights the following areas in need of support and reform: Levelling Up the UK, ethnicity pay reporting, sick pay disparity, unused apprenticeship levy funds and new flexi-job apprenticeship plus a spotlight on endometriosis affecting working women.
- Progress: Levelling Up the UK – white paper
- Pay Disparity: Women and Equalities Committee recommends mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting
- Sick Pay: Think tank report reveals significant age and race disparity in access to sick pay
- Apprenticeships: Nearly half of firms returned unspent apprenticeship levy funds
- Apprenticeships: New Regulations for “flexi-job” alternative apprenticeships
- Women’s Health: Workplace awareness and support needed for endometriosis
Progress: Levelling Up the UK – white paper
The White Paper ‘Levelling Up the United Kingdom’ was published on 2 February 2022 and describes the steps the government will take to achieve its objective of “Levelling Up” the UK. This will involve taking steps to make the UK more prosperous and united by tackling the regional and local inequalities that unfairly hold back communities and to encourage private sector investment across the UK.
The new policy regime in the White Paper comprises four key objectives and 12 UK-wide missions in a change programme to be delivered by 2030. In outline, this includes:
- Increasing productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector. This is allied to maximising investment from the private sector and public investment in research and development. Other related goals include renters having a secure path to ownership, a reduction in the number of non-decent homes, improving transport connections and maximising the uptake of high-quality skills training.
- The highest level of devolution for all parts of England that request it. This is linked to people taking pride in their areas, an increase in well-being and life expectancy and a reduction in crime.
- The number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths significantly increasing.
The White Paper also contains a detailed policy programme which addresses the practical delivery of the objectives and missions. This is followed by a section setting out the next steps for implementation.
Although the White Paper is intended to set out the practical steps intended to achieve the goal of Levelling Up, it is predominately written at a high and aspirational level and contains more detail regarding context and the status quo than it does hard detail about what is actually going to be done (including how many of the proposals are likely to be funded). However, it is certainly arguable that the mission (to make the UK more prosperous and united by tackling the regional and local inequalities that unfairly hold back people and communities and to encourage private sector investment across the UK) is both positive and desirable.
Pay Disparity: Women and Equalities Committee recommends mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting
The House of Common’s Women and Equalities Committee examined the case for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting in a one-off evidence session on 12 January 2022. In the report of the session, the committee recommends that the government should make ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory by April 2023. While the report acknowledges the challenges of collecting ethnicity data, such as concerns over the data protection implications of small sample sizes, it states that businesses are ready for the government to act. The government consultation, which stated that it was “time to move on ethnicity pay reporting”, closed in January 2019 but a response has not yet been published.
The Committee’s chair, the Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said,
“The Government’s failure to move forwards on ethnicity pay gap reporting is perplexing. We already have the systems and structures in place to start reporting on the ethnicity pay gap, as well as a clear impetus- tackling inequality benefits not only marginalised groups, but the whole economy. The Government has no excuse. All that is lacking, it seems, is the will and attention of the current administration.
“Last week, the Government made bold promises to ‘Level Up’ geographically. Time and again it proves itself to be blind to the importance of levelling up within our communities and address long-standing disparities along the lines of protected characteristics. By taking this small step, the Government would demonstrate its commitment to working with business to reduce inequality.”
Sick Pay: Think tank report reveals significant age and race disparity in access to sick pay
On 4 February 2022, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and University College London (UCL) published a report entitled ‘A Healthy Labour Market: Creating a post-pandemic world of healthier work’ highlighting the disparity in access to sick pay among different groups of workers in the UK. The report revealed that:
- Older employees above age 65 are five times more likely to lack access to sick pay compared to younger workers aged 25 to 44.
- South Asian workers are around 40% more likely to lack access to sick pay than white British workers. The report suggested that this could in part be caused by institutional racism, as income, occupation and employment status differences do not explain the disparity.
The report also calls for statutory sick pay (SSP) to be reformed, including the abolition of the lower earnings limit threshold, increasing the rate of SSP to 80% of earnings (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month), providing for access to SSP from day one of illness and improving enforcement against employers who do not comply with their obligations.
Apprenticeships: Nearly half of firms returned unspent apprenticeship levy funds
A new poll of more than 500 HR professionals (conducted by Survation on behalf of London First) has found that 48% of firms have returned unspent apprenticeship levy funding and only 17% of employers think the levy system is working well. This has prompted renewed calls for the system to be reformed and made more flexible to allow employers to use it to reskill and upskill employees. The poll also gathered employers’ perspectives on how the levy could be improved.
Increasing the spending deadline from two to three years, using some of the levy to contribute towards the wage cost of new apprentices and incentivising employers to convert Kickstart placements into apprenticeships were each agreed to be potential improvements by 35% of employers. A quarter of employers thought the levy would be improved if larger employers could transfer more funds to SMEs and 41% said they would be more likely to transfer more funds if they were allowed to.
Apprenticeships: New Regulations for “flexi-job” alternative apprenticeships
On 26 January 2022, the Apprenticeships (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/86) were made, enabling a pilot scheme of “flexi-job” apprenticeships to commence in England. The Regulations come into force on 6 April 2022.
A flexi-job apprenticeship is a new type of alternative English apprenticeship. The Regulations will allow employers taking on a flexi-job apprentice to only give a three-month commitment, instead of the usual 12-month minimum commitment under an approved English apprenticeship agreement. This will allow flexi-job apprentices to complete discrete blocks of employment with training, with different employers, throughout the course of their apprenticeship. A key barrier to taking on apprentices in certain sectors is the need for varied and flexible employment patterns, particularly in the creative and construction sectors, where employment may be short-term or project-based.
After the minimum three-month arrangement with one employer, the apprentice can either begin a new arrangement with the same employer or move to continue their apprenticeship with a new employer. Flexi-job apprenticeships may only be carried out for a limited number of approved apprenticeship standards, in the creative and construction sectors.
The flexi-job apprenticeship pilot scheme will begin in April 2022 and is intended to last for 18 to 24 months. It will be reviewed after nine, 12 and 18 months. The government will publish guidance ahead of the pilot start date. If the pilot is successful, the flexi-job scheme may be made available to other apprenticeship standards.
Women’s Health: Workplace awareness and support needed for endometriosis
On 9 February 2022, workplace support for people with endometriosis was debated in the House of Commons. Alec Shelbrooke MP, gave a particularly good description of the huge impact and variety of ways it can affect sufferers in his speech to the Commons. His main concerns being that employers need to understand the condition better to enable them to support their employees appropriately and reduce discrimination for women, and girls, suffering from this. Alex Davies-Jones MP, went on to say,
“Some 1.5 million women are dealing with symptoms ranging from chronic pain and fatigue to infertility, and the research, awareness and support for those suffering from what—as we have heard —can be an extremely debilitating condition is still lagging far behind, and is lacklustre at best.”
Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, confirmed that the government’s women’s health strategy, to be published later this year, will focus on workplace health as one of its six priority areas. It will include a chapter on “Menstrual health and gynaecological conditions” which will explore ways to improve awareness, care and treatment of those suffering from endometriosis and other similar conditions. Given that a taskforce was set up this month to tackle Menopause we are hopeful that endometriosis will be properly tackled so that women suffering with endometriosis can fulfil their potential in the workplace in a way that suits them best.