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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
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VOICES
Explainer All you need to know about your new right to sick pay
Employers will soon be required to pay their staff when too sick to work.

A WORKERS’ RIGHT that has long been the norm across Europe is finally set to be introduced here from next January.

Up to now, Irish employment law did not require employers to pay their staff when absent due to illness or injury. Sick pay was treated as a perk of the job that employers could decide whether or not to include in a contract of employment.

As a result, half of the workforce, over one million employees, are not covered for paid sick leave in their terms and conditions.

The outbreak of Covid-19 clusters in meat processing plants among low wage essential workers put our failed voluntary approach to sick pay under the spotlight.

A campaign by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for legislation to make sick pay mandatory, launched here on The Journal, won cross-party support and widespread public support.

Polling carried out by Ireland Thinks found nine in 10 people (87%) support workers having a guaranteed right to sick pay from their employer.

Two years on, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has now signed the commencement order bringing the new Sick Leave Act into law from 1 January.

This follows lengthy consultations with trade unions, business bodies, and the public to agree the rules for statutory sick pay (the legal minimum employers must provide) and the passage of the Bill legislating these rules through the Oireachtas.

Here’s what you need to know about your new workers’ right to sick pay.

Who is covered

All employees who have worked for their employer for at least 13 weeks have a right to sick pay.

Part-time employees are also covered and you don’t have to earn above a certain amount to qualify. This is to ensure people working irregular hours and in low wage jobs will have their wages paid when sick.

In the UK, for example, where a worker must earn over £120 a week to qualify over 2 million employees aren’t covered for sick pay, 70% of whom are women.

Unfit for work

You must be certified by a doctor as unfit for work. But your employer can choose to waive this rule.

While it is common in European statutory sick pay schemes to have a rule that sick leave is medically certified, workers in Ireland are unusual in having to pay for a GP visit.

Following repeated highlighting by ICTU that this out-of-pocket expense will be a barrier for low paid workers to access their right to paid sick leave, the income threshold for a GP visit card was increased to €46,000 in the Budget.

Duration of cover

There are no waiting days. You will be paid from the first day of absence from work due to illness or injury.

You will be covered for a minimum 10 statutory sick days a year from 2026. If your employer provides longer paid sick leave, the extra days are known as contractual sick days.

The 10 days will be gradually introduced over 4 years, starting with 3 days on 1 January.

  • From 2023, 3 working days covered.
  • From 2024, 5 working days covered.
  • From 2025, 7 working days covered.
  • From 2026, 10 working days covered.

Sick days can be taken together or separately, as needed. You cannot carry over unused sick days to the following year.

If you run out of sick days before you are fit to return to work, you will transfer over to Illness Benefit if you have the required PRSI contributions.

Rate of payment

Sick pay will be paid at 70% of your daily rate of pay, up to a maximum of €110 a day or €550 for a five-day working week.

Workers earning below €41,000 a year won’t be impacted by the €110 payment cap.

Compliance

All employers must comply with the rules of the Sick Leave Act, with two exceptions.

Employers in financial difficulty who demonstrate an inability to pay can be exempt by the Labour Court from paying sick pay for up to a year.

In such cases, employees’ sick pay will be paid from the Social Insurance Fund so that you won’t be out of pocket.

Also, if your employer has a company sick pay scheme where the benefits of the scheme are ‘on the whole as favourable’ to employees they too are not obliged to follow the rules in the Act.

If you believe your employer has not followed the Sick Leave Act rules, you can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission or Labour Court.

The penalty for non-compliance is up to four weeks’ full pay on top of your unpaid sick pay.

Some readers will no doubt be thinking that there will be widespread abuse of paid sick leave by workers and it will bankrupt small businesses. There is no evidence to support this.

The new workers’ right to sick pay brings us in line with the rest of Europe and will be a positive and long-lasting legacy of the pandemic.

Dr Laura Bambrick is Head of Social Policy and Employment Affairs at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

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Dr Laura Bambrick
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