Sweden tightens up long-term sickness absence rules Sweden tightens up long-term sickness absence rules

Sweden tightens up long-term sickness absence rules
20 Aug 2018

The number of people on long-term sick leave in Sweden has become such a political hot potato that the current government has tightened up the rules still further for employers.

As of 1 July, organisations are required to come up with an action plan if an employee is deemed at risk of taking long-term sickness absence, which means for more than 60 days. Under Swedish welfare law, staff have the right to paid sick leave from day two of being off work. For the first 13 calendar days, employers are responsible for paying 80% of their salary, including benefits or extra pay due to overtime for instance.

The right to sick pay starts on the first day that someone starts work, whether they are hired on a short- or long-term contract. But there is one exception: if an employment contract lasts for less than one month, an employee must have been working at the organisation for at least 14 calendar days.

If this situation occurs, they can apply to the Försäkringskassan  for help. This agency handles social insurance payments, which play an integral role in Sweden's welfare system.

Social insurance covers everyone who lives or works in Sweden. The Försäkringskassan handles sickness absence cases from day 14 onwards, even though employers are still expected to get involved, for example, by coming up with action plans to help get staff back to work.

Conditions such as ME have come into particular focus here due to an increase in the number of people diagnosed with it since the turn of the millennium. This situation led to a tightening of the rules and major reform of employee and employer obligations in 2016 in a bid to reduce the incidence both of the condition and other work-related disorders.

Creating an action plan

The new law stipulates that if an employee is absent for at least 60 days, their employer is obliged to create an action plan to help them return to work. This situation must be made clear to the staff member concerned on the 30th day of their absence from work at the latest, not least because the action plan has an impact on their right to payment by the Försäkringskassan.

While the regulations do not state what should be included in the action plan, it is understood that they should be personalised to each individual. Possibilities include:

  • Offering part-time working options;
  • Adjusting individual tasks or elements of the workplace environment;
  • Providing tools for support;
  • Offering alternative jobs on either a temporary or permanent basis;
  • Retraining;
  • Providing planned contact while the staff member is off sick;
  • Devising a schedule to help the employee return to work.

According to the law, employers must have come up with this action plan by the 30th day of their employee’s sick leave, even though it does not become actionable for another 30 days afterwards. If it is unclear whether the worker will actually be off for longer than 60 days, it might be acceptable to wait before devising a plan, but the employer must be able to prove that such uncertainty exists. There are exceptions though, such as if an employee is unable to work at all.

Policies towards sick leave in Sweden have been very varied over the years. In the late 1980s, around 9.7% of the working population took time off due to illness at any one time. Legislative changes to payments and a requirement that employers take more responsibility for the situation saw numbers plummet to 3.3% by 2011. But today, the latest statistics reveal the figures are on the up again to 4.1%. 

But these are unlikely to be the last changes we see to sick leave. The country is due to go to the polls this September and the outcome is very uncertain. But regardless of the next government’s political stripes, long-term sickness absence is likely to be an ongoing topic.

 Zennie Sjolund

Zennie Sjölund is divisional director for payroll of Srf konsulterna, Sweden’s association for accounting and payroll consultants, which was formed in 1936. Srf konsulterna’s role is to promote effective and modern payroll processes as well as provide certification for members and help to boost their professional skills. It has also developed a code of conduct (SALK).

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The number of people on long-term sick leave in Sweden has become such a political hot potato that the current government has tightened up the rules still further for employers.

As of 1 July, organisations are required to come up with an action plan if an employee is deemed at risk of taking long-term sickness absence, which means for more than 60 days. Under Swedish welfare law, staff have the right to paid sick leave from day two of being off work. For the first 13 calendar days, employers are responsible for paying 80% of their salary, including benefits or extra pay due to overtime for instance.

The right to sick pay starts on the first day that someone starts work, whether they are hired on a short- or long-term contract. But there is one exception: if an employment contract lasts for less than one month, an employee must have been working at the organisation for at least 14 calendar days.

If this situation occurs, they can apply to the Försäkringskassan  for help. This agency handles social insurance payments, which play an integral role in Sweden's welfare system.

Social insurance covers everyone who lives or works in Sweden. The Försäkringskassan handles sickness absence cases from day 14 onwards, even though employers are still expected to get involved, for example, by coming up with action plans to help get staff back to work.

Conditions such as ME have come into particular focus here due to an increase in the number of people diagnosed with it since the turn of the millennium. This situation led to a tightening of the rules and major reform of employee and employer obligations in 2016 in a bid to reduce the incidence both of the condition and other work-related disorders.

Creating an action plan

The new law stipulates that if an employee is absent for at least 60 days, their employer is obliged to create an action plan to help them return to work. This situation must be made clear to the staff member concerned on the 30th day of their absence from work at the latest, not least because the action plan has an impact on their right to payment by the Försäkringskassan.

While the regulations do not state what should be included in the action plan, it is understood that they should be personalised to each individual. Possibilities include:

  • Offering part-time working options;
  • Adjusting individual tasks or elements of the workplace environment;
  • Providing tools for support;
  • Offering alternative jobs on either a temporary or permanent basis;
  • Retraining;
  • Providing planned contact while the staff member is off sick;
  • Devising a schedule to help the employee return to work.

According to the law, employers must have come up with this action plan by the 30th day of their employee’s sick leave, even though it does not become actionable for another 30 days afterwards. If it is unclear whether the worker will actually be off for longer than 60 days, it might be acceptable to wait before devising a plan, but the employer must be able to prove that such uncertainty exists. There are exceptions though, such as if an employee is unable to work at all.

Policies towards sick leave in Sweden have been very varied over the years. In the late 1980s, around 9.7% of the working population took time off due to illness at any one time. Legislative changes to payments and a requirement that employers take more responsibility for the situation saw numbers plummet to 3.3% by 2011. But today, the latest statistics reveal the figures are on the up again to 4.1%. 

But these are unlikely to be the last changes we see to sick leave. The country is due to go to the polls this September and the outcome is very uncertain. But regardless of the next government’s political stripes, long-term sickness absence is likely to be an ongoing topic.

 Zennie Sjolund

Zennie Sjölund is divisional director for payroll of Srf konsulterna, Sweden’s association for accounting and payroll consultants, which was formed in 1936. Srf konsulterna’s role is to promote effective and modern payroll processes as well as provide certification for members and help to boost their professional skills. It has also developed a code of conduct (SALK).

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