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The sickness absence bill for employers and taxpayers is currently estimated at £9 billion a year in sick pay and other associated costs, and the new service is part of a series of measures to help employers support their workforce and prevent employees needlessly going onto sickness benefits.
Currently, only 10 per cent of employees in small businesses have access to an occupational health service, compared to more than half of employees in larger firms. The new service should enable employers of all sizes to access expert advice to help them manage sickness absence in the workplace.
Under the proposed scheme, workers will be examined by the independent assessment service after four weeks’ sickness absence. The service will then advise on how people can be assisted in returning to work, and experts agree this approach should help to stop thousands of people falling out of work and onto long-term sickness benefits.
The new service, which is expected to be up and running in 2014, will be part-funded by the abolition of the percentage threshold scheme, which compensates mainly smaller employers for very high rates of sickness absence in their organisations, but which the government believes reduces incentives to manage absence.
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