Ireland launches consultation into introduction of statutory sick pay scheme

Out-Law News | 19 Nov 2020 | 9:51 am | 2 min. read

The Irish government has backed up an earlier commitment to enact statutory sick pay (SSP) legislation in Ireland by the end of 2021 by launching a consultation on the proposals.

The consultation document asks employers and employees for their views on questions such as the minimum rate of payment for SSP, the length of absence a scheme would cover, and whether illnesses should be certified by a medical professional. It also asks for views on whether employees should have a minimum length of service before qualifying for the benefit, if there should be a minimum earnings threshold or other eligibility requirements, and whether financial support should be put in place for employers unable to afford SSP rates.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the scheme should be designed in in such a way that it protects employees but, that it also needed to be fair and affordable for employers.

Employment law expert Jason McMenamin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “While it is too early to speculate how the final statutory sick pay scheme will look, this is likely to have a big impact for any employers who currently do not pay sick pay. We would advise employers to monitor this development carefully and to keep their current position under review.”

There is currently no provision for SSP in Ireland. An employee may qualify for Illness Benefit from the state after six consecutive days of absence due to illness if they satisfy the relevant social insurance contributions and are under the pensionable age.

Currently, the payment of Illness Benefit begins from the seventh day of the illness. No payment is made for the first six “waiting days”. However, the number of waiting days is to reduce to three days in February 2021 as part of measures introduced under Budget 2021.

In March 2020, the Irish government introduced the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This provides a payment for employees and the self-employed who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or are self-isolating or restricting their movements on the instruction of a doctor or the Health Service Executive (HSE).

To qualify for the benefit an individual must also be absent from work and confined to their home or a medical facility; have the relevant Certificate of Incapacity from work or HSE documentation requesting the individual to self-isolate or restrict their movements; satisfy the relevant social insurance contributions; be under the pensionable age; and have a contract of employment, if an employee. The benefit is currently available until March 2021.

The introduction of SSP in Ireland follows the expansion of the country’s benefits system over recent years. In September 2020, legislation extending employees’ parental leave entitlements in Ireland from 22 weeks to 26 weeks came into force. Ireland has also introduced paternity benefit, enhanced maternity benefits, and extended social insurance benefits to the self-employed.

The SSP consultation is open until 18 December.