In its latest announcement, the Irish government confirmed that it has approved the drafting of the General Scheme of the Sick Leave Bill 2021 which will make it mandatory for employers in Ireland to provide statutory sick pay (SSP) to employees.
In his announcement, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, explained the aim of the scheme was to make sure that ‘every worker, especially lower paid workers in the private sector, have the security and peace of mind of knowing that if they fall ill and miss work, they won’t lose out on a full day’s pay.’
While SSP practices across the 27 EU member states vary, Ireland is one of only three member states to have no SSP scheme at all as detailed in the government’s public consultation document on SSP. The implications of this lack of SSP scheme for workers and businesses alike was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic when workers were told to stay out of work for a 14-day period if they had symptoms of COVID-19 or were identified as a close contact of someone with COVID19. This requirement to take unpaid sick leave understandably caused financial hardship for many workers who could not work from home and in some cases led workers to hide their symptoms or close contact status to avoid having to take unpaid time off work.
The SSP scheme will be brought in over a four-year period gradually increasing to a maximum ten days’ paid sick leave as follows:
The rate of sick pay will be set at 70% of the employee’s wage subject to a daily threshold of EUR 110. This daily threshold is based on the 2019 mean annual salary of EUR 40,889.16 and, as explained in the government press release, the threshold may be reviewed and amended over time in line with changes in income/inflation.
Employees will have to provide a medical certificate to qualify for SSP and will need to have worked for their employer for a minimum six-month period before they can claim SSP under the scheme.
Where employees exceed their SSP entitlement, but remain on certified sick leave, they may qualify for Illness Benefit which is paid by the Department of Social Protection.
The legislation to introduce the scheme has yet to be published and the obligation to provide SSP will not apply to businesses until 2022. In practice, many employers may already provide a sick pay entitlement for staff which is over and above the SSP scheme entitlement. Where this is the case, employers may wish to update their template contracts for new hires to provide that contractual sick pay is inclusive of any applicable SSP entitlement. In any event, employers should consider reviewing their policies and contracts to ensure they reference and comply with the minimum statutory entitlements under the SSP scheme when it comes into force.
The government press release on the new SSP scheme is available here.