Sick Leave Act, 2022: five statutory sick leave days per year becomes law in Ireland
The Sick Leave Act, 2022 represents a critical shift in Ireland's employment regulations, introducing a statutory mandatory employer sick pay scheme. This transformative legislation, effective since January 1, 2023, is a response to the previous absence of such provisions in Ireland, leaving a segment of workers, particularly those on lower salaries, without adequate sick pay coverage. The act ensures a significant level of protection for all employees, irrespective of their full-time or part-time status, granting them entitlement to statutory sick leave and pay in situations where they are unable to work due to illness or injury.
Since January 1, 2024, under the provisions of the act, employees can avail up to five statutory sick leave days per year, with payments amounting to 70% of their regular earnings, capped at €110 per day. This entitlement was increased from three days in 2023. The employee must have completed a 13-week service requirement in order to qualify for this entitlement. The Act introduces a critical safety net for employees facing health challenges, especially in circumstances where employers might not have previously provided sick pay. Employers offering more favorable sick leave schemes to their employees are exempt from the act's provisions, contingent upon specific criteria.
Noteworthy is the provision for employers facing financial difficulties to seek exemptions from paying statutory sick leave payments for a defined period of 3 to 12 months. This exemption, however, requires an agreement between employers and employees, or in the absence of an agreement, satisfaction of specific conditions demonstrating the employer's attempts to reach an agreement and the potential adverse impact on the business if compelled to pay statutory sick leave.
Future amendments are on the horizon, allowing the relevant Minister to specify additional sick leave days based on various economic, social, and labor market factors. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has outlined plans for gradual increases in statutory sick leave days over the coming years.
Recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) decisions are providing valuable insights into the act's application, especially in cases where employers have established company sick pay schemes. An employee who believes that their employer has failed to comply with the provisions of the Act may make a complaint to the WRC An Adjudication officer may award compensation of up to 4 weeks’ renumeration. The criteria considered by the commission include factors like the period of service required, the number of days absent before sick leave is payable, the length of time and amount of sick leave payable, and the reference period of the sick pay scheme.
As the Act introduces substantial changes, employers are advised to establish or review their sick pay policies to align with the new regulations. The Act's impact extends beyond sick leave entitlements, influencing broader aspects of employee rights, protection from penalization, and mandatory record-keeping by employers. Non-compliance with record-keeping requirements could result in fines of up to €2,500.
In essence, the Sick Leave Act, 2022 is a pivotal piece of legislation that addresses a gap in Ireland's employment laws, providing enhanced protection for employees and reshaping employer practices to align with evolving societal expectations regarding workers' rights and well-being.
About the author: Sinéad Leahy is a trainee solicitor with Dermot G. O’Donovan Solicitors.