The Government has announced the introduction of a new online service that is intended to help employers support employees with disabilities and health conditions.

The service came about as a direct response to the July 2019 consultation presented to Parliament by the Secretary for State for Work and Pensions titled "Health is everyone's business". The consultation response recommended, amongst other things, the introduction of strengthened statutory guidance to support employers to take early, sustained and proportionate steps to support a sick employee return to work before they can be fairly dismissed on the grounds of ill health. The intention was to provide clear expectations of employers' responsibilities towards their employees.

The Government proceeded with the proposal, spending £6.4 million developing the new online service to "give employers the tools they need to empower and encourage disabled employees and those with health conditions" and to help those with health conditions to thrive in the new world of work.

The service, which is aimed at smaller businesses without in-house HR support, is free for employers to access. It provides information and advice on supporting and managing employees with disabilities or health conditions, to help businesses develop more inclusive workforces.

The service helps employers to understand their legal obligations in a user-friendly Q&A format, including how to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.

A test version of the service is now available and will be further developed over the next three years. The Government has invited businesses and disability groups to have their say on the service through a short online survey, following which updates and improvements to the survey will be made.

The Birketts view

The new service is a valuable and easily accessible tool, particularly for smaller businesses looking for more tailored advice in supporting disabled employees and those with long term health conditions. To ensure the tool becomes as effective and useful as possible, the Government hopes that businesses and disability groups will feedback on any improvements that would benefit them during the three year development period.

It is promising to see the Government taking positive action in relation to the original consultation. This new service demonstrates that at least some of the recommendations arising from the consultation have been implemented, but it remains to be seen what others are taken forward.

In particular, it will be interesting to see if any developments are made in the statutory sick pay (SSP) scheme. The consultation proposed reforms to SSP to widen the eligibility requirements by lowering the earning limits, allowing phased returns to work supported by SSP and strengthening compliance and enforcement. Although the Government concluded that this was not the right time to introduce changes to SSP, they recognised that "the consultation posed several important questions on the future of SSP which require further consideration".

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