29.05.2024

Employers could legally have to offer free health checks to staff under new Government drive to Britain’s end sick-note culture

Employers could be legally required to offer free health checks to staff as part of the Government’s drive to end Britain’s sick note culture. Ministers today published a string of proposals designed to increase the provision of occupational health services in the workplace.

In a carrot and stick approach, they are considering both tax breaks and compulsion to persuade employers to do more to look after the long-term health of their staff.

Certain services, such as eye tests and basic medical check ups can already qualify for tax breaks.

Under one proposal, this list would be expanded so that firms could be given tax incentives for offering certain medical services to staff, such as screening for health conditions, flu vaccinations and treatments designed to reduce workplace absence.

Employers could be legally required to offer free health checks to staff as part of the Government’s drive to end Britain’s sick note culture

Employers could be legally required to offer free health checks to staff as part of the Government¿s drive to end Britain¿s sick note culture

The Treasury has also asked firms whether wider services like gym membership and private medical insurance should qualify for tax breaks, although it is not currently planning to do so.

A separate consultation from the Department for Work and Pensions suggests that larger firms could be required by law to offer a basic level of occupational health services to staff.

The document cites evidence from countries like the Netherlands and Japan which require employers to provide health checks and which have ‘higher coverage’ of occupational health services as a result.

The plans reflect mounting concern about rising levels of long-term sickness, and their impact on the jobs market.

In a joint foreword to the consultation on tax breaks, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride warn there are now 6.5 million working age people who are neither in work nor looking for a job.

The number of people who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness stands at 2.6 million, up 23 per cent over the last decade.

The two ministers said: ‘Typically, for every 13 people currently working, one person is long-term sick. Maintaining workforce participation is crucial to ensure that we have enough workers to support the future needs of the UK, and maximise productivity growth.’ The Treasury document states that only 45 per cent of British workers have access to occupational health services at work — a figure that falls to just 18 per cent among small businesses.

It adds: ‘Greater access to good quality occupational health services has the potential to reduce UK productivity losses caused by long-term sickness and disability, and improve people’s lives by reducing sickness and ill-health.’ Ministers are anxious to cut long-term sickness rates in order to ease the UK’s tight labour market, which is blamed for fuelling inflation and pushing employers to look for more migrant labour.

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