Managing sick leave and sick pay in Ireland

To keep your business functioning at full capacity, you need your employees at work. It’s that simple. And yet, sick leave is a challenging issue for many businesses to deal with. And it can prove contentious between employer and employee.

Sick leave in Ireland can be a complicated issue. As an employer, you have several key responsibilities to your employees. But, also, your staff have responsibilities they need to adhere to.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought sick leave to the forefront for many employers. It added new elements to consider around self-isolation pay and the amount of time staff will have off.

In this article, we will look at how best to manage sick leave and sick pay in Ireland.

What is sick leave and what are the sick pay rules for employers?

Sick leave is any time when an employee would normally be working, but they’re unable to work due to sickness or injury.

The key legislation in Ireland that governs sick leave is the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

While there are employee sick leave entitlements in Ireland, they do not currently have a right to paid sick leave. However, it’s expected that this will change later this year when Ireland’s new Statutory Sick Pay scheme comes into effect.

While employees do not currently have a statutory right to sick pay in Ireland, you can decide to implement a sickness policy that will entitle your employees to receive paid sick leave in Ireland.

Ultimately, it’s up to you as an employer how you define your sickness policy. So, how many sick leave days per year are there for employees? As many as you designate.

All members of staff must be provided with written details on how your policies and procedures work. Normally, you can include such information in their contract of employment.

Managing sick leave

Managing absence can be a complex but good way to notify employees of the requirements to follow when absent from work due to sickness. How absence will be managed should be set out in a Sick Leave Policy. The policy is also used to highlight the workplace support available for absent staff.

Your Sick Leave Policy should manage sick leave absence in a fair, reasonable, and consistent manner. For example, your stance on sick leave for casual employees should remain the same so to not discriminate against full-time staff.

Your Sick Leave Policy should include:

  • Clear, accessible policies and procedures that inform employees on how your absence system works.
  • Employee obligations to include the reporting procedure required to notify their employer of their absence from work due to sick leave.
  • It should detail what supports, where applicable, are available to employees who are injured or ill.
  • Reasonable adjustments that can be made, if necessary, to accommodate employees when returning to work after illness or with a disability or illness.
  • Include a COVID-19 Policy detailing isolation periods and reporting procedures.

Employees who don’t attend work due to illness or any other reason, and who haven’t notified you as to the reason for their absence, will be deemed to be on unauthorised absence from work.

Remember, you have control over the contents of your Sick Leave Policy. So, you can make it as supportive as you feel necessary, given your business standards, needs, or common industry expectations.

How long can an employee be on sick leave?

The amount you allow annually is up to you. Under section three of the 1994 Terms of Employment (Information) Act, you must state what your policy is within your contracts of employment.

Most businesses will indicate what the set total of annual sick leave entitlement is. In many cases, it’s 20 days a year. Of course, you can offer payment to go along with this. But if you do, employees must obtain a medical certificate from a GP or hospital to support their absence from work.

If you don’t offer sick pay at work, employees may be entitled to claim Illness Benefit. Here, a separate claim must be submitted to the Department of Social Protection.

Managing sickness and maternity leave

If an employee has to take sick leave before their maternity leave in Ireland, and if it’s the final four weeks before the birth of their child, the employee may decide to begin maternity leave immediately. This decision remains at the discretion of the employee.

Should this happen, the individual must provide you with an update on the development of their pregnancy-related illness so you can take appropriate steps. It’s important that you provide information in relation to the options available to your employees, ensuring they feel supported and informed at all times.

If the sick leave is earlier in their pregnancy, e.g., four weeks before their due date, going on sick leave before maternity leave will follow the same process as with other members of staff.

Holiday time during sick leave

There are common questions from employers about holiday time during sick leave. For example, can an employee use annual leave when sick? Yes. However, the individual must get a medical certificate when they’re off due to sickness.

As an employer, you can’t force a member of staff to do this.

Another question employers ask is, does annual leave accrue on sick leave? Yes, from August 1st, 2015, employees can accrue annual leave on sick leave. Under the Workplace Relations Act 2015, the guidelines are:

  • When an employee is absent from work due to illness, the absence counts as working time where it’s covered by a medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner.
  • Where an employee is unable to take all or part of their annual leave during a leave year due to a medically certified illness, they can take annual leave for up to 15 months after the leave year has ended.
  • If an employee’s employment is terminated during the 15-month period, the employee has an entitlement to payment in lieu of any such outstanding annual leave.

One of the best methods of managing sickness leave involves ensuring that the right amount of communication is maintained. This means checking in at regular intervals and discussing what you can do to help the employee through their long-term sick leave return to work. The commitment of employers to a consistent policy on sick leave has been found to be a critical factor in creating a culture of good attendance.

Our HR consultants can help you with sick leave and sick pay

If you’re asking yourself, are employees entitled to sick pay or how much is sick pay in Ireland, our HR consultants can help. Or, if you need to implement a Sick Pay Policy, we can help with that too. Call today on 01 886 0350.

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