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Sickness absence costs small businesses £1,500 per year, FSB figures show

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The Government has been urged to introduce a small employer's relief for the recovery of statutory sick pay (SSP), as figures from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) show sickness absence costs small businesses on average £1,500 per year.

Long-term sickness absence does not affect the smallest of businesses frequently, but when it does it has a big impact and the costs can be high. The FSB's 'Voice of Small Business' survey panel shows on average small businesses only experience 2.4 days sickness absence per employee each year - much lower than the national average 7.7 days per employee - 25% said that they experienced no sickness absence at all and 81 per cent said that they were not at all affected by long-term sickness absence.

But in the last 12 months sickness absence cost firms on average £1,500, but for nine per cent it cost more than £5,000. So it is important that the Government does more to help with the costs of sickness absence in the smallest firms.

Some small businesses can feel confused by the Percentage Threshold Scheme - the current system used to calculate how much SSP an employer can claim back. This means that many small businesses either have to spend time doing difficult calculations or they have to spend money on buying in help.

With 40% of small business employers claiming that dealing with holiday entitlement and sickness absence was one of the most difficult aspects of employment law, the FSB believes that recovery needs to be simplified so micro firms can reclaim all SSP costs more easily to stop them from being hampered at such a difficult time.

The FSB is calling on the Government to introduce a small employer's relief for all firms with an annual National Insurance Contributions bill of less than £45,000 to recover SSP. This relief would be like that used for reclaiming statutory maternity pay and would use the same calculations. As a result, it would ease the administrative burden, as well as helping businesses manage sickness absence better.

Small firms care about their staff and want to invest in their health where they can. However, Government must understand the pressures small firms are under, and that this is one pressure among many.

According to the FSB the Government will also need to recognise that small firms are not able to cope with an increase in the burden of responsibility or an increase in regulation, but that by better supporting small businesses, they could be able to improve the way that they manage sickness absence.

John Walker, national chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said the Government should look at improving the way the Fit Note is used by making it electronic and increasing the training that GPs are given on how to use it. He added small businesses also need better access to free occupational health advice either through GPs or via the national occupational health phone line to make this issue easier to manage.

Walker said: "Small firms act like a tight knit family and value the contribution their staff bring to the business. And research shows that staff in smaller firms are more often committed and loyal. But sickness absence is one of the most complex pieces of employment law they have to deal with. It can also be costly with small businesses paying around £1,500 over the past 12months. The Government must provide a small employers relief for statutory sick pay in the same way they do for statutory maternity pay so those small businesses that experience a member of staff on long-term sickness absence, are not hampered and are given the support they need."