The Irish Labour Party recently proposed the Sick Leave and Parental Leave Bill 2020 to provide all employees with up to six weeks of employer-paid sick leave.
If passed, the bill would not be effective until at least April 2021.
Ireland is one of five European countries without statutory employer-paid sick pay. Currently, employers decide at their own discretion whether to provide their employees with fully or partially paid sick leave. While a government-paid illness benefit is available to full-time employees, the amount is insufficient to replace salary lost during their absence from work. These benefits are available from the seventh day of illness and the maximum benefit is EUR 203 per week before tax. Currently, until March 2021, there is an increased benefit of EUR 350 payable if the sickness is COVID-19 related. To qualify for the government-paid illness benefit, employees must have at least 104 weeks of paid qualifying insurance contributions since beginning insurable employment.
In the context of this global health pandemic, the government of Ireland realized the urgency of introducing paid sick leave to ensure employees comply with public health guidelines by self-isolating without risk of losing their jobs.
If the bill passes, employees with at least four weeks of service would be entitled to sick pay for a period of six continuous weeks or 30 days in any 12-month period. There would be no waiting period and therefore sick leave would be paid from the first day of illness or injury. The new leave would be paid at the same rate as annual leave in accordance to Section 19 (1) of the Organization of Working Time Act, 1997, which states that payment should be equal to the employee’s normal weekly rate of pay (or at a rate that is proportionate to the weekly rate).
Employers would be entitled to receive any government illness benefit paid to employees while they are in receipt of sick pay. It is unclear, however, whether the government or the employee is responsible for reimbursing the employer for the government paid illness benefit.
A complaint or dispute relating to an employee’s entitlement to sick leave may be presented or referred under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 the same way as a complaint or dispute in relation to an employee’s entitlement to paid annual leave.
If passed, employers who do not currently provide paid sick leave will face a significant increase in salary expense. Employers should begin planning for this expense.