Employers will be encouraged to invest in benefits to help get staff back to work, following the findings of the long-awaited sickness absence review.

The report, by Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work, and David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, puts forward several proposals to help reduce ill-health. This issue currently costs employers £9 billion per year.

A recommendation is that tax breaks should be given where employers invest in medical treatments or vocational rehabilitation to keep sick employees in work or to speed a recovery. Another suggestion is that existing tax relief for Employee Assistance Programmes is retained.

David Smith, Chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association, said: “We welcome the findings of this review. We look forward to confirmation from Government that they will be accepted.”

Further ideas include introducing a Government-funded Independent Assessment Service (IAS). This would provide an in-depth look at an individual’s physical and/or mental health in order to give advice on how a return to work could be supported. IAS would be triggered once a period of absence had reached four weeks.

Other areas for development include the fit note. The review proposes that the Government revises its guidance so that judgments surrounding a patient’s ability to work are not centred on a specific job assessment.

Finally, an extension to the Work Programme was put forward in the form of a job-brokering service. This would help long-term sick employees find new work, where appropriate, before they become reliant on the benefits system. This would be offered free of charge after 20 weeks of absence.

The report concluded: “We believe that the new system, reformed as we recommend, will provide a swifter and more sensible journey from work to a period of support and back to work again, for the vast majority of people who can return to work.”