BY JOHN ELLIS, FINANCIAL ADVISOR
In the past, as an employee you had no legal right to receive payment from your employer during periods of sick leave and you had no entitlement to statutory payment during the first three days of a medically certified absence.
However, starting in January of this year, a new sick pay scheme was introduced to provide workers with some level of financial support during periods of illness.
The new sick pay scheme, officially known as Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), aims to ensure that you are provided with a portion of your normal pay while on sick leave. Under the scheme, you are entitled to three days of sick pay a year in 2023. The introduction of the sick pay entitlement is being phased in over four years, offering a gradual progression towards greater sick leave coverage. This entitlement will increase each year – five days in 2024, seven days in 2025, and 10 days in 2026. You will be entitled to take these days together if required or on non-consecutive days.
Your employer is now obliged to provide you a payment at a rate of 70% of your normal pay, up to a maximum of €110 a day. To qualify for SSP, you must be working for your employer for at least 13 continuous weeks before falling sick and you must be certified as unable to work by a doctor.
Katherine McVeigh BL and Anne Conlon BL, committee members of the Employment Bar Association of The Bar of Ireland who examined the bill, pointed out that the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s Report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Sick Leave Bill 2021 recommended that all employees be entitled to statutory sick pay, particularly where employers can request medical certification, without any minimum service requirement.
In any event, once entitlement to sick pay from your employer ends, and you still need time to recover, you will need to see if you qualify for illness benefit from the Department of Social Protection subject to your PRSI contributions.
The scheme brings several benefits to both you as an employee and your employer. You will have peace of mind knowing in the short term you won’t face financial difficulties due to illness, reducing the pressure to return to work prematurely. Your employer, through the scheme, recognises the importance of your well-being by providing adequate time and income to recover and demonstrate their commitment to your welfare.
And for the employer the phased implementation takes into consideration the economic challenges faced by businesses, making the scheme more adaptable and affordable for employers.
When the drafting of the scheme was approved in June 2021, Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar highlighted the scheme’s significance saying: “Ireland is one of the few advanced countries in Europe not to have a mandatory sick pay scheme and, although about half employers do provide sick pay, we need 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.
“I believe this scheme can be one of the positive legacies of the pandemic as it will apply to illness of all forms and not just those related to COVID-19.”
The introduction of the SSP scheme was met with a mix of feedback. While some view it as a necessary step toward better worker protection, others have expressed concerns about its potential impact on business costs and operations.
Addressing this issue the Tánaiste said: “By phasing this in over a four-year period, we are taking a balanced approach to plug a well acknowledged gap in our social protections while also responding to the cost concerns of small businesses in the current economic environment. The scheme is designed to be fair and affordable with the minimum complexity and administrative burden for employers.”
As the scheme continues to be implemented over the coming years, its impact on worker protection, employer practices, and the overall labour landscape will undoubtedly come into sharper focus.