Finland: Changes in legislation lead to earlier return to work after prolonged sickness absence

Prolonged work disability can be prevented by closely monitoring absences from work and determining the requirements for returning to work, according to a study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH). The study investigated the effects of amendments made in 2012 to the Health Insurance Act and the Occupational Health Care Act. These changes aimed to prevent the prolongation and recurrence of work disability periods. According to the so called ‘30-60-90 day rule’ introduced in the amendments, when an employee’s sick leave has lasted more than 30 days, the employer is required to inform occupational health services. When sick leave has lasted for 60 days. the employer must then apply for sickness benefit from the Social Insurance Institution of Finland. The occupational health services assess the employee's capacity for work. Thereafter, the employer, the employee and the health services determine whether the employee is able to return to work when sickness benefit has been paid for a total of 90 days.
The study found that people return to work much sooner after prolonged work disability as a result of the legislative changes. This was most evident among those who had been on sick leave for almost three months: their work participation was 2% higher after the changes. In 2008–2011, prior to the new legislation being enacted, the proportion of those returning  to work after a long sickness absence had been lower. The source population of the study consisted of over 72,000 Finnish public sector employees with permanent employment contracts.

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