The Government's flagship "fit note" programme is failing to deliver on getting people back to work, with long-term absence rates increasing, according to a new report.
The EEF manufacturers' organisation said that while sickness absence levels have reached a record low of 2.1% - around five days a year per employee - the situation has now "plateaued".
A survey of 330 companies found two fifths said long-term absence had increased in the last two years, with rises in stress and mental health issues.
Professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at the EEF, said: "Driving down absence rates, helping more employees return to work earlier and encouraging their wellbeing is critical for our economy. But, despite employers increasing investment in managing sickness absence and, providing their employees with more health related benefits, the improvement in overall absence rates has more or less now plateaued.
"From now on the focus has to be on reducing long-term absence which is only going to happen if we up our game. This must start by making the 'fit note' work so that it can make real inroads on delivering the objective of reducing unnecessary sickness absence."
"It will support people to stay in work, helping them to avoid long-term sickness. It will also help businesses to better manage sickness absence among their workforce, saving employers £70m a year and cutting the time people spend off work by 20%-40%."