It’s perhaps surprising that, in 2021, Ireland is one of just three EU member states not to provide employees with a legal right to be paid when on sick leave. But that’s about to change.
For many of Ireland’s workers, the introduction of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is long overdue. Without the security of sick pay eligibility, unwell employees can often feel obliged to attend work to avoid losing out on vital income – potentially resulting in prolonged sickness, further damage to their health, or, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, the spread of illness to colleagues.
But from 2022, Irish workforces will be legally entitled to sick pay, providing much-needed wellbeing and financial support for employees across all industries. Now, businesses with staff based in Ireland must ensure they’re prepared for the regulation, with the right policies and tools in place to support their workforce.
Here’s what you need to know to get your sick leave policy up to speed.
Plans to introduce Statutory Sick Pay in Ireland were recently confirmed by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar.
From 2022, employees will be entitled to 70% of their wage up to a maximum of €110 a day. However, because this threshold is based on Ireland’s 2019 mean weekly earnings, the maximum daily sick pay is likely to increase with inflation – so employers should continue to monitor changes to the regulation over the years ahead.
To help employers prepare and adjust to the new regulation, the scheme will follow a phased introduction plan. So, employees’ statutory rights will increase over a four year period with the following entitlements for paid sick days:
- 2022: 3 days
- 2023: 5 days
- 2024: 7 days
- 2025: 10 days
To be able to claim sick pay from their employer, the SSP states employees must meet two key criteria:
- They must have been employed by the organisation for a minimum of six months
- They must provide a GP certificate, confirming they’re unfit for work and indicating their expected return date.
However, because a GP certificate is required irrespective of the length and nature of the illness, demonstrating sick pay eligibility could prove difficult for employees. For example, if they’re suffering from a bug or common cold, the employee would have to visit a GP simply for a certificate – even though medical support may not be needed.
This requirement can also erode a large portion of the scheme’s financial benefit for employees. Visiting a GP can cost up to €60, depending on the practice and whether the individual has health insurance which includes day-to-day medical expenses or is eligible for a medical card. So, if the employee is entitled to the maximum sick pay of €110 and is only off for one day, more than half of that could be spent obtaining a GP certificate to prove eligibility.
To help your workforce make the most of the SSP scheme and ensure their financial, physical and mental wellbeing are cared for, you might consider providing health insurance as part of your employee benefits package. As well as typically providing quicker access to treatment to help employees get back on their feet sooner, some health insurance plans will also cover your employees for GP visits.
Find out more about corporate health insurance and get expert advice through our dedicated health insurance division, HCC.ie.
Defining Your Sick Pay Policy
The SSP scheme provides a minimum baseline of sick pay that every employer legally must provide employees – but that’s not to say you can’t offer additional sickness support for your employees.
In fact, despite there being no current legal requirement to provide paid sick leave in Ireland, in 2019 44% of employers provided some level of sick pay to their workforce in Ireland.
Once the regulation comes into force in 2022, it’s likely that some employers will offer more paid sick days than the statutory requirement, or a higher pay rate than the mandatory 70%. While sick pay can sometimes be viewed as a huge expense, the benefits to employee wellbeing and company culture often outweigh the financial cost to the organisation.
Depending on your industry, having a generous sick leave policy in place may actually help to attract and retain top talent. Increasingly, we’re seeing employee benefits become a crucial factor when deciding whether to accept a job offer or seek alternative employment – with one study finding that 78% of employees feel benefits are an important factor when accepting a job.
Whatever your policy looks like, it’s important you start reviewing and defining your policy now to ensure you’re compliant with the new regulation. It must also be formally communicated in advance to employees in writing, such as in their employment contracts or employee handbook.
Ensure the policy is clear, detailing exactly what employees are entitled to, what eligibility criteria must be met, and the process they must follow when taking sick leave and returning to work. Not only will this help employees understand what they’re entitled to, but it can also ensure the policy is applied consistently across your business.
When Should My Sickness Policy Be Introduced?
Although the regulation doesn’t come into effect until 2022, introducing a sickness policy sooner rather than later could support your workforce to return to work safely amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Anything that deters employees from taking sick leave could increase the risk of a workplace coronavirus outbreak. Without financial support, employees experiencing symptoms or being asked to self-isolate could feel obliged to attend work if they can’t afford to lose out on 100% of their income.
In fact, the lack of SSP was criticised by the Irish National Public Health Emergency Team for contributing to the spread of coronavirus in Ireland. While the announcement of an SSP scheme is a positive development, we’re likely to see many people returning to their workplace before the regulation comes into force.
As well as getting compliant-ready by the end of the year, you might consider introducing your own sick pay policy before reopening the workplace in full. Not only will this help create a more caring company culture and offer financial support for anyone who needs to self-isolate, it could also reduce the risk of a workplace COVID-19 outbreak by empowering those with potential symptoms to stay home, without significantly losing out on income.
Recording Sickness Absence
If you don’t currently have a sickness policy in place, you’ll need to establish a clear, consistent process for recording and monitoring absences to ensure the policy is being adhered to.
With the right tools, you can enable your employees to easily log their sick leave and have their absence approved by management. Sickness can be logged against the employee’s record for future visibility, helping to ensure the maximum sick day limit isn’t exceeded while enabling you to identify any recurring issues where you may be able to support the employee.
Eppione’s HR and employee benefits platform also offers an option to add a reason for sickness, with data automatically fed into the platform’s integrated people analytics module. So, you can gain a clear understanding as to the main causes of absence within your workforce – whether that be COVID-19, mental health, or any other health complications.
To find out more about how Eppione can support you and your employees, book your free virtual demo today.
Get SSP-Ready Today
The Government intend to bring SSP into law by the end of 2021, so your organisation needs to start deciding what your internal sickness policy will look like sooner rather than later.
Of course, the amount of time, resource and discussion required to become SSP-compliant will depend on your current arrangements. If you already offer sick pay in line with the regulation, it may just be a matter of reviewing your current policy to ensure your compliance is clear to employees. But if this is your first time defining a sick pay policy, the chances are you’ll have a fair bit of work to do to get the right policies, processes and tools in place before the legislation comes in to effect.
If you’re willing to consider introducing paid sick leave prior to the regulation in order to support employees during the pandemic, these discussions need to start immediately to get your policy ready for when you welcome employees back to the workplace.
Get in touch with the Eppione team today to explore how our HR & employee benefits platform can help you manage, record and report sickness absence.