The draft Sick Leave Bill 2022 has been signed off by the Cabinet and will now go before the Seanad and Dail for approval. It is the latest in a series of initiatives from An Tanaiste and Minister for Enteprise Trade & Employment Leo Varadkar aimed at strengthening employee rights.
From now on all employees in Ireland will have the right to paid sick leave for the first time ever.
Here our Head of Employment Law, Brian Gill, outlines the provisions of the new Bill.
What are the main aims of the Sick Leave legislation?
Minster Varadkar has given 4 explicit reasons for introducing this legislation.
- No employee should feel they have to go to work when they are sick for fear of having no income
- Public health grounds – having employees at work with infectious diseases increases the risk of transmission to healthy employees and employees who turn up for work sick are “more likely to injure themselves or make a serious mistake”
- To bring us into line with other European countries and the UK where statutory sick pay is the standard.
- To reduce inequalities between the private and public sector.
Minister Varadkar has said he is mindful that this is an extra expense for employers – especially those in the SME sector and so the costs will be shared between employers, employees and the Government and the changes will be phased in over a number of years.
What was the entitlement to Sick Pay before the 2022 Bill?
Up to now there has been no law; Statute, common law or otherwise, providing for mandatory sick pay. Whilst most public sector employees have been entitled to paid sick leave for many years it is estimated that up to half of private sector employees have no such entitlement
When will Statutory Sick leave for all workers be introduced?
The Scheme will be phased in over the next four years. The Tanaiste hopes to sign the provisions into law by the middle of this year. As things stand this is the timeline:
2022 – 2023 3 days
2024 5 days
2025 7 days
2026 10 days
What are the new rates of Statutory Sick Pay?
Sick Pay will be paid by employers at a rate of 70% of an employee’s daily earnings, subject to a daily maximum threshold of €110.00. This threshold equates to an annual salary of €40,889.16. This rate can be revised by Ministerial Order in line with inflation and changing incomes.
Why is there a cap on the rate of Statutory Sick Pay?
The daily cap and the rate of 70% are there to ensure that excessive costs are not placed on employers. This is to recognise that employers may have to deal with the cost of replacing staff who are out on sick leave at short notice.
How can an employee avail of Paid Sick Leave?
In order to qualify for sick pay, an employee must
- be employed for a minimum of 13 weeks with their employer.
- present their employer with a Medical Certificate from a registered medical practitioner
Is there any financial assistance available if an employees is sick beyond the period covered by sick pay?
Once the entitlement to sick pay from their employer ends, employees who need to take more time off may quality for illness benefit from the Department of Social Protection. This is subject to their PRSI contributions.
Are employers and employees limited to these Statutory Sick Pay entitlements?
The legislation expressly states that the terms therein are the minimum terms that employers must comply with. There is no legal impediment to an employer agreeing to better terms.
As referred to above, this statutory right to sick pay is one of 5 rights for employees which the Tanaiste has committed to introducing as part of his Ministerial brief: The other 4 rights are:
- The protection of tips and gratuities
- The new public holiday – which will be in February from 2023 onwards.
- New redundancy rights for employees laid off during the pandemic
- The right to request remote working
Not surprisingly, like that last-mentioned right to request to remote working – the right to statutory sick pay has been met with opposing responses from Employer and Employee representative bodies– with the former concerned about a disproportionate burden on their members and the Unions, whilst welcoming the Bill, believing it does not go far enough. Like so many new laws – only time will tell who’s right.