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UK – Government proposals on workplace disputes and sickness absence

18 January 2013

The government made two important announcements yesterday, one regarding additional steps to help resolve workplace disputes, and the other looking at reducing sickness absence to get employees back to work.

Workplace disputes

Employment relations Minister, Jo Swinson, announced plans to reduce the number of workplace disputes that end up at employment tribunals with the introduction of a new statutory code to encourage greater use of settlement agreements. She also proposed setting a limit on unfair dismissal payments.

The proposals include plans to introduce a 12-month pay cap on the compensatory award for unfair dismissal. There are no plans to change the overall limit of the cap which currently stands at £72,300.

The government also wants to make template letters available to foster the use of the new settlement agreements, alongside a statutory code of practice which will include an explanation of improper behaviour.

But the government will not set a guideline tariff for settlement agreements. Instead it will develop guidance outlining the issues that should be considered when deciding and negotiating the level of financial settlements.

Sickness absence

In a separate announcement the government unveiled plans to establish a health and work assessment and advisory service to address sickness absence and prevent workers from falling out of employment, a move welcomed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The service involves offering advice to employees, employers and GPs to get people back to work after a period of sickness. The proposals follow a 2011 review of workplace sickness absence which outlined recommendations aimed at cutting sickness absence.

Ben Willmott of the CIPD said that only half of people are able to return to work if they have been absent for six months. “Evidence also suggests that occupational health services are the most effective means of helping people with health problems back to work, yet only a minority of small firms provide access to these,” he said.

“The new service will therefore fill a gap in the market by providing free, independent, objective assessment and advice to help people make quicker and lasting returns to work.”

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