Firms urged to tackle incapacity

Employers need to develop reasonable and comprehensive policies for managing
incapacity to combat spiralling costs of workplace absence, which rose from
10.7bn to 11.8bn in the year 2000-1.

This was the message delivered to delegates at the recent Managing
Incapacity conference organised by Employers’Law in association with Allen
& Overy.

Employment partner at the legal firm Karen Seward urged HR and occupational
health professionals to work together and to think laterally across several
areas of legislation: the employment contract, health and safety and the
Disability Discrimination Act.

Companies were advised to reserve the right in the employment contract to
dismiss staff in cases of prolonged incapacity and to reduce contractual
obligations in relation to sick pay.

Private health insurance was another area which could lead to expensive
claims and delegates were warned that such schemes removed a lot of flexibility
in managing incapacity absences.

On the other hand, the recent Sutherland v Hatton case should encourage
employers to adopt robust policies on dealing with stress.

Another speaker at the briefing, Stephen Bevan, head of research at the Work
Foundation, told delegates that UK employers spend 16 per cent of their pay
bill each year managing sickness absence and up to 70 per cent of these costs
are attributable to long-term absence.

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