Earlier this week, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced that the Government had commenced a public consultation process on proposals to introduce statutory sick pay for employees. The announcement follows a commitment by Government to enact statutory sick pay legislation by the end of 2021 and will bring Ireland in line with most other European countries.
Currently, there is no legal requirement in Ireland for employers to provide sick pay for employees. However, many employers do provide sick pay when an employee is out of work due to illness with criteria to qualify for sick pay provided in their individual Terms of Employment. Our own research for the Adare Human Resource Management HR Barometer, 2020 found that eight in ten Organisations surveyed had a sick pay policy in place.
In situations where the employer does not provide sick pay, the State provides access to Illness Benefit in certain circumstances. In order to avail of this, the employee must satisfy PRSI conditions and be under the age of 66. Even where an employer makes provision for sick pay, employees should still be encouraged to claim for Illness Benefit from the first eligible day, which at present starts after 6 days of illness. However, it is worth noting as part of the budget announcements, the number of waiting days for the standard Illness Benefit are to be reduced from six days to three, which becomes effective at the end of February 2021.
The issue of lack of sick leave pay has been a political issue for some time, particularly among lower paid workers and those working in the gig economy. It again came to the fore in the early stages of the current health crisis when concerns were raised about those working in certain sectors as being financially vulnerable. There were a number of highly publicised clusters across the country in retail, nursing homes and meat processing plants where people were going to work while infected.
However, any employee who has been medically certified as having Covid-19 or is in a period of self-isolation as directed by a doctor is entitled to the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit payment of €350 per week.
In its announcement, the Government acknowledged the financial difficulties already experienced by employers and has committed to ensure any new statutory sick pay legislation is fair and affordable, but it will no doubt be an additional cost on employers.
The closing date for submission to the consultation process is 18th December and details of how to make submission can be found on the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Employment website – www.enterprise.gov.ie.