Sick leave in Ireland

16 April 2019

First published: July 31st, 2020

Last updated: March 31st, 2022

Sick leave is a difficult topic for many businesses to deal with. It can often prove contentious between an employer and a workforce. 

Sick leave in Ireland is a topic that features many employment laws that you must understand and follow. But, also, your staff have responsibilities they need to adhere to. 

When dealing with sick leave, you must also consider sick pay and the amount of time staff will have off. 

In this guide, we explain what you need to implement and consider across your business with regard to paid sick leave and sick leave entitlements in Ireland.

What is sick leave?

Standard sick leave is time where an employee would normally be working. But they’re unable to do so due to sickness or injury, which keeps them out of work. 

Governing legislation in Ireland is from the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997

Every employee has sick leave entitlement. However, they don’t currently have any right to receive pay when they’re not in work. But you can decide to introduce a policy where they’ll receive the money.

Currently, 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. As an employer, it’s important to be aware that this situation is due to change once the Statutory Sick Pay scheme in Ireland comes into effect later this year.

The SSP scheme will provide all employees who meet the qualifying criteria with a right to paid sick leave. This scheme will be phased in over four years to afford employers time to prepare for the additional costs. Employees will be entitled to three days per annum from later this year, rising to five days in 2024, seven days in 2025, and a maximum of 10 days in 2026.

As an employer, you must provide all members of staff with written details on how your procedures work. Normally, you can include such information in their contract of employment.

Sick leave and pay: An overview

Currently, employees have no legal right to receive any sick pay from their employer. But you can offer it. The planned introduction of the SSP scheme later this year will change this and you’ll be required to provide employees with their entitlements to paid sick leave.  

There’s financial support for staff if they apply to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) and request Illness Benefit. This is for staff who can’t work due to sickness. They must be under the age of 66 and have coverage from social insurance (PRSI) to make a claim.

As an example, many businesses will run an absence policy such as the below:

  • The sick pay scheme begins once an employee completes (for instance) their probation period. 
  • If an employee is then off sick, they’ll receive the designated pay you’re offering (if you choose to do this). 
  • After a certain time, half pay sick leave will come into effect. That’s half the amount of full pay. 
  • Should the period of sickness leave continue beyond your set period, this will eventually become an unpaid situation.

But, in contrast, what is unpaid sick leave? This is a period of time where an employee is off work due to illness but doesn’t receive any sick pay or wages. Again, in Ireland, it’s currently your right as an employer not to offer pay. 

It’s a difficult area to get right in general as many employees may have underlying health conditions, so they may reasonably expect sick leave with pay.

Similarly, you may wonder if mental health issues qualify for your policy. For example, is stress leave sick leave? While it’s not essentially a physical illness, it can have serious consequences on your workforce if not managed correctly. 

Paid vs unpaid sick leave: The pros and cons

You should consider the approach your business wants to take on this issue. You may think not offering sick pay will discourage staff from taking time off due to sickness. 

However, many employees view sick pay as a perk. And if you don’t offer it, employees could head into work ill to ensure they get their full wage. That could lead to illness spreading in your workforce, which in the long-term can damage your productivity. 

You can balance your requirements by, for example, only offering a few annual sick days with pay. So, when staff are genuinely ill, they can take the time off to recover. 

With the SSP scheme due to become law this year, it’s important that you begin to review your employment contracts and sick pay policies. Doing so will ensure you’re prepared to update these documents to reflect the changes when they come into effect.

How to manage sick leave

To successfully manage sick leave you can:

  • Establish clear policies and procedures for how your absence system works. 
  • Provide support, where applicable, to employees who are injured or ill.
  • Make reasonable adjustments to your working environment, if necessary, to accommodate for employees with returning to work with a disability or illness.
  • Provide a consistent and fair process for all of your workforce. For example, your stance with sick leave for casual employees should remain the same so to not discriminate from full-time staff. 

Remember, you have control over your policy. So, you can make it as supportive as you feel necessary, given your business standards or common industry expectations.

How long can you 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 determine 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 (sick note) from a GP or hospital to support their sickness claim. 

COVID-19 paid leave and sick leave information

The Irish government has indicated that if an employee becomes sick due to coronavirus, or displays symptoms, they must self-isolate. But should self-isolation be recorded as special leave with pay or sick leave? Well, it might be advisable to consider if special leave should apply in this instance.

So, is self-isolation a sick leave day? There is no straightforward answer. Although an employee’s regular employment law entitlements remain unchanged during this time, you may classify it as COVID-19 Leave or as regular sick leave. 

But what if an employee contracts COVID-19 while on special leave with pay? In this instance, the special leave will simply continue. During this time, a doctor must medically diagnose the employee. 

However, they can claim Illness Benefit for COVID- 19 absences. This is from the Department of Employment Affairs and 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 their childbirth, you can start maternity leave immediately (normally, this is the decision of the employee). 

Should this happen, the individual must supply you with an update on the development of a pregnancy-related illness so you can take appropriate steps. They can then begin their maternity leave, with their SMP (Statutory Maternity Pay) beginning from the first day they’re off. 

If the sickness is earlier in their pregnancy than the four-week period, going on sick leave before maternity leave will follow the same process as with other members of staff. 

An overview of holiday time during sick leave

There are common questions from employers about this. For example, can an employee use annual leave when sick? Yes. However, the individual must get a medical certificate when they’re off ill. But, as an employer, you can’t force a member of staff to do this. 

However, they may approach you to ask, “Can you go abroad when on sick leave?” Yes, but going on holiday while on sick leave renders the latter void. Should you agree to the request, you can change the “sick leave” to holiday time. This does mean the individual will receive holiday pay for sick leave, rather than any arranged sick leave payments you may, or may not, have as part of your employment contract. 

But does annual leave accrue on sick leave? Yes, from August 1st, 2015, staff can do this. Under the Workplace Relations Act 2015, the changes are: 

  • Where an employee is absent from work, that 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’ll still be permitted to 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 entitlement to payment in lieu of any such outstanding annual leave.

The change came about in the European cases of Stringer and Others v H.M. Revenue & Customs [C-520/06] and Schultz-Hoff [C-350/06]. 

Using sick leave during notice period

If an employee is set to leave your business, staff may wonder if they can use sickness days during this time. 

If their service with you is over a set period, they can take sick leave during their entire notice period ─ if they’re genuinely ill. They’ll follow the normal sick procedures you have during this time. 

An overview of CE scheme sick leave

The Community Employment (CE) programme/scheme helps to bring individuals out of long-term unemployment. It does this by offering temporary or part-time jobs. 

CE employees must work 19.5 hours a week. But they also have entitlement to a total of 56 hours (that’s seven days) of medically certified sick leave. Although that’s within a set 52-week period (one calendar year). 

Car allowance during sick leave

If you’re offering a car allowance to your employee and they become ill, then you can discontinue the payments. 

That is until the individual returns to work again and begins using their vehicle again. 

Need our help managing sickness absence? 

If you need assistance with sick leave in Ireland or would like to know how to reduce sickness absence in the workplace, we can help. Call today on 0818 923 923.

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