Occupational health: Workplace health tax breaks needn’t be so taxing
Blog post • Aug 10, 2012 16:11 BST
Has the time finally come for workplace health tax breaks? It’d be great to be able to punch the air and say ‘yes’ and, certainly, many employers do say they feel they have been pushing much more at an open door on this issue in recent months.
The reality, however, is that despite hopes being raised by government, saying that, in principle, they support tax breaks and incentives for employers that invest in workplace health; there is considerable frustration in many quarters at the lack of any definitive action.
Tax breaks, after all, were one of the key recommendations of the government-commissioned Dame Carol Black/David Frost Health at Work review of sickness absence published back in November. It stated in no uncertain terms, that ‘expenditure by employers targeted at keeping sick employees in work (or speeding their return to work) such as medical treatments or vocational rehabilitation should attract tax relief’.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has, in turn, reiterated its long-held stance that tax breaks for therapies and gym membership, among other things, would help to encourage more employers, particularly smaller and medium-sized firms, to provide health-related support for employees. Almost two thirds of employers in its poll believed tax breaks to provide subsidised employee access to public gyms or sports facilities would be of benefit, with at least half feeling the same way about tax breaks for employee therapies such as physiotherapy for non-work related injuries or illness.
What this highlights, if more evidence were needed, is not just that such tax breaks would be popular among business leaders but that such tax breaks could have the effect of giving workplace health intervention not just a moral reason for right-thinking employers, but also a compelling financial reason for all employers.
For many workers this sort of formal validation of the value of such support cannot come a moment too soon. PruHealth warned this month that the current climate of stress and job uncertainty is contributing to growing “desk rage”, with a tenth of workers having witnessed a physical assault in the workplace and, even worse, nearly 3% admitting to having been physically aggressive to a colleague themselves.
Separately, desk equipment firm Fellowes has calculated that employees who cannot get comfortable at their desks could be costing their employers on average £3,279 per person per year in lost revenue through time off sick and reduced productivity – the equivalent of £52bn a year to the UK economy.
Given the storm of negative headlines the government has suffered since the Budget, perhaps now really could be the time for Chancellor to gain an easy win, cheer us all up and win applause from employers and employees alike.