The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD announced details in early June 2020 of new legislation to give all workers the right to paid sick leave, which has been signed off by the cabinet.

All workers, for the first time, are to get 10 days paid sick leave, phased in between 2022 and 2025.

The Government’s statutory sick pay scheme (SSS) will be phased in over a four-year period, starting with three days in 2022, (which will fill the three-day gap before employees on sick leave become eligible for illness benefit from the State), rising to five days payable in 2023, seven days payable in 2024 and up to 10 sick days payable in 2025.

A company or farm business has freedom to offer more days if they wish.

The phased approach allows employers the time necessary to adjust to these changes.

Who will pay the cost of this sick pay?

Employers will cover this sick pay cost at a rate of 70% of an employee’s wage, subject to a daily threshold of €110 per day, to minimise cost exposure for employers, especially where employees are on high salaries.

The Tánaiste stated that this scheme is being phased in to help employers to plan ahead and manage the additional cost, which has been capped at €110 per day.

Once the statutory sick pay entitlement period ends and provided the employee/farm worker has the required social insurance contributions, the employee may then qualify for illness benefit from the State (which is currently set at €203 per week) or COVID-19 illness benefit (currently up to €350 per week).

What does this mean for farmers with farm employees?

This introduction of statutory pay sick pay in Ireland will be a major change for all Irish employers and is expected to result in increased costs to those employers currently not offering any form of sick pay.

Unlike many other European countries, employers in Ireland are generally not obliged to pay employees while they are on sick leave.

The Government has confirmed that there will be no employer compensation scheme to assist with the costs of sick pay, despite some form of financial supports for employers being sought by 67% of respondents to the Government's consultation on the SSS.

How does farmers with employees manage this SSS?

Employees/farm workers must obtain a medical certificate and have completed six months’ service with the employer to avail of the statutory sick pay.

The requirement for a doctor's certificate may be waived by the employer/farmer, if they so wish.

Employers should consider planning ahead by calculating their potential monetary exposure based on administrative costs and average employee absences in prior years.

Employers should update their employment policies and employee contracts to align with the changes.

Why is the Government bringing in this new SSS?

The purpose of the Government’s statutory sick pay scheme is to introduce, for the first time, a general right of statutory sick pay in Ireland.

This right to sick pay will be legally enforceable by employees through the Workplace Relations Commission and the courts.

Ireland’s current lack of statutory sick pay was criticised by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), because of its possible impact on the spread of COVID-19.

It was suggested that employees with COVID-19 symptoms were disincentivised from taking sick leave due to the corresponding repercussions in their pay.

What are the benefits of this scheme for farmers as employers and farm workers as employees?

According to the regulatory impact assessment of the bill, the SSS will lead to a safer work environment, make Ireland a more attractive country to live and work in, and reduce the spread of infectious illnesses and diseases.

It will help farm employers to plan ahead and enable farm employees to avail of sick pay up 70% of their wages, if unable to work.

It will provide a minimum level of protection to lowly paid employees who may have no entitlement to other sick pay schemes.

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