Research released by the insurance group Aviva has shown that just one in five (20%) of employers feel equipped to help employees back to work following long-term illness. This comes at a time when the Government is calling for employers to be at the centre of managing employees back to work following absence.

Almost a quarter (22%) of employers say that they don’t have the resource or expertise to manage people back into the workplace effectively. Whilst a further quarter (25%) would worry that they’d have to carry on paying sick pay.

To help address this situation, a significant number of employers (43%) say that they think employees should be auto-enrolled onto a scheme that gives them financial protection in the event of long-term sickness absence. Around one in five (17%) employers say that they are already considering taking out group income protection.

The research, a nationwide survey of 1,000 British adult employees and 500 employers, also reveals a worrying lack of awareness amongst employers regarding State support available to employees who are unable to work due to long-term illness.

Nearly two-thirds of employers (63%) admit that they don’t know how much benefit is paid through Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Whilst just one in ten (11%) employers had reviewed their sick-pay arrangements following the welfare reform changes.

Employers were also unaware of the impact the new state benefits approach could have on employees with conditions such as cancer, MS and mental health issues, which can present different levels of severity at different times. This means that people with conditions such as these could find themselves with limited financial support.

When the situation was explained, over a third (38%) of employers felt that it would be a good idea to have a different approach for different conditions. However, a quarter of employers (24%) recognised the potential impact this could have on their employees, saying that they’d worry that employees would be forced back into the workforce when they are not well enough to work. One in five (22%) felt that it would be very difficult to have the correct measures in place to decide whether a person is fit for work.

Steve Bridger, Head of Group Risk, Aviva says:

“There is a concerning lack of awareness amongst employers about the State benefits relating to illness or injury. However, we’re encouraged to see that employers recognise the benefit of auto-enrolling employees onto a scheme that gives them financial protection if they are unable to work due to long-term illness and aids rehabilitation.

“At Aviva we’re working hard to uncover information gaps such as these and offer the right educational support and corporate benefit solutions to help employers address sickness absence, both now and in the future.”