Health is everyone’s business: lowering the number of women who lose their jobs because of a reproductive health condition
Between July and October 2019, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health and Social Care launched a consultation on how to prevent people with health conditions from falling out of work and missing out on the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
In 2018, Public Health England reported on the far-reaching impact of women’s reproductive health symptoms with reference to the impact on their professional lives.
Feminine Vitae raises awareness about the under-recognised impact of reproductive health conditions on women’s career progression. From menopausal symptoms to conditions such as endometriosis which affect 1 in 10 women, many women with painful and chronic symptoms take long-term sickness absence.
Noting that the report indicates that ‘small employers are five times less likely to provide access to occupational health services than large employers’, we would like to bring to the attention of the problems faced by women with chronic reproductive health conditions. These Women are often at high risk of falling out of work; particularly when working for Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). One reason is that SMEs, especially those at the infant stage of business development, are less financially capable to absorb the additional costs of providing support to employees with long term health conditions.
In our submission, Feminine Vitae suggests three (3) measures to encourage supportive actions by SMEs for their employees with chronic health conditions. We take the view that the following measures will be most appropriate for Small businesses (preferably those with less than 50 employees), these small companies are more likely to face resource constraints; and, SMEs cannot generally afford an in-house occupational health therapist.
- Providing financial support or incentives for absence cover costs. One of key resource constraint in keeping employee with long-term condition is the cost of recruiting and training new employees to cover when an employee a long-term health condition takes a long-term sickness absence. Hence, by providing financial support to cover such cost, this measure will ensure that providing support is not considered as an unrecoverable financial burden and the employer will be more likely to provide other support to the employee. More importantly, employees would be able to take time off for long-term treatment (e.g. Access to Psychological Therapies which usually take place during working hours) with less pressure or fear to lose their jobs.
- Subsidising the costs of adopting flexible or remote working systems. For many women with reproductive health conditions, flexible or remote working can significantly improve their productivity. Travelling to work (depending on distance and means) can add a degree of hardship to coping with symptoms; while, working from home can enhance their productivity. Making support available to develop productivity metrics to ensure a fair and accountable system for employees who work remotely would instill confidence about the effectiveness and productivity gain associated with flexible or remote work options.
- Financial incentives to offset costs incurred for employees’ access to health-related support. Many SMEs may not have the resources to offer employee benefits such as subsidised or free counselling session, subsidised private health care for quicker access to treatment. Specific (capped) financial incentives should be offered to SMEs to cover the cost of subsidising counselling and other healthcare support directly related to the employee’s condition.