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Why work is so problematic for people with disabilities and long-term health problems

02 Dec 2017

Occupational health researchers and practitioners are well aware of the stubborn gap in employment rates between disabled and non-disabled people in countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) [1]. They may be less aware that many of the causes of this gap can be found in the workplace. The example of employers’ attitudes towards sickness absence shows how some of these causes might be traced back to the behaviour of employers. UK employers are particularly likely to be exercised by levels of sickness absence [2]. Even though UK rates of sickness absence are modest by European standards, and levels of sick pay are among the lowest in Europe, a higher proportion of sick pay is paid by employers in the UK than in other European countries [3–5]. This gives UK employers a particular incentive to reduce sickness absence. In 2004, disabled people in the UK were twice as likely as non-disabled people to require sickness absence and a decade later this gap persisted even as overall rates of sickness absence fell. In 2016, the rate of sickness absence was 4.4% for employees with long-term [7] health conditions as against 1.2% for those without [6,7]. Any attempts by employers to bear down on the costs of sickness absence may well have a disproportionate effect on disabled employees and contribute to the disability employment gap by causing them to leave their jobs [8].

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Occupational Medicine