The Irish Government recently brought in significant changes to leave entitlements for employees with the introduction of a statutory sick pay scheme and extending parent’s leave entitlements from 5 weeks to 7 weeks.
The Parent’s Leave and Benefit Act, 2019 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2022 (“2022 Order”) applies from 1 July 2022 and the Sick Leave Act, 2022 (“2022 Act”) was signed into law on 20 July 2022 and is awaiting a Ministerial Order for commencement which is expected very shortly.
These benefits in the area of parent’s leave and paid sick leave will be welcomed by employees. However, as they are substantial legal developments employers and HR professionals need to be aware of what these changes entail.
What has changed with the introduction of a statutory sick pay scheme?
The 2022 Act introduces a statutory sick pay scheme into Ireland for the first time. This brings Ireland in line with other EU countries and the UK where such schemes are the norm. The scheme introduces paid sick leave on a phased basis with the entitlements increasing over a four-year period.
The 2022 Act introduces a statutory entitlement to paid sick leave for up to three days a year with the entitlement increasing to five days paid leave in 2023, seven days paid leave in 2024 and 10 days paid leave in 2025.
The employer will be responsible for paying up to 70% of the employee’s normal wages throughout their leave, up to a daily maximum of €110.
The 2022 Act expressly states that the statutory sick leave is a minimum entitlement and it does not prevent employers from offering better sick pay provisions under a contract of employment or through a collective agreement with unions.
- Are all employees eligible?
In order to be eligible for statutory sick leave, an employee must have completed thirteen weeks continuous service and have provided a medical certificate signed by a registered medical practitioner.
- What other obligations are on employers?
The 2022 Act includes reporting obligations and requires employers to keep records of all employees availing of statutory sick pay for four years. If an employer fails to keep such records they will be guilty of an offence and liable to a class C fine.
- What should employers do?
The 2022 Act applies to all employers in both the public and private sector and regardless of the size of the organisation. Where an employer fails to introduce the statutory sick pay scheme, a complaint can be brought to the Workplace Relations Commission. It is important that employers update their employment policies to set out an employee’s right to statutory sick pay and ensure management and HR personnel are adequately trained on these changes. Employers should ensure that their policies clearly state the statutory sick leave entitlements of employees and the rate of pay available to them. Employers should also ensure they have a record keeping system in place to record employees on paid sick leave.
- What has changed in relation to Parent’s leave?
As of 1 July 2022, persons deemed to be ‘relevant parents’ are now entitled to seven weeks parent’s leave, as opposed to five weeks parent’s leave.
- What is Parent’s leave?
Parent’s leave is unpaid leave but each parent of a child is entitled to apply to the State for a benefit and eligibility is based on PRSI contributions. If eligible, the State benefit is €250 per week. Parent’s leave is specifically required to be taken during the first two years of a child’s life. Parent’s leave can be taken in a continuous block of seven weeks or split up into separate periods of not less than one week at a time.
Parent’s leave is different to parental leave as it is shorter and those who avail of it are eligible for a State benefit. Parental leave is an entitlement to unpaid leave for 26 weeks which can be taken for each eligible child up to their 12th birthday (or 16th birthday if the child has a disability or long term illness). There is no state benefit available to those who avail of parental leave.
Parent’s leave is available to relevant parents who have a child under the age of 2 in July 2022 or who have adopted a child within the last 2 years.
If an employee’s child is under 2 on 1 July 2022 and the employee has already taken 5 weeks leave, they can apply to take the additional 2 weeks. Employees are required to give at least 6 weeks’ notice of their intention to take parent’s leave.
- Who are ‘relevant parent’s’?
A ‘relevant parent’ includes a parent of the child, a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the parent of the child, the adopting parent or parents of the child, the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the adopting parent of the child or a parent of a donor-conceived child.
- What should employers do?
Employers should review their handbooks to ensure that all policies dealing with leave entitlements are up to date. In particular, they should ensure their parent’s leave policy clearly states the new leave entitlements. Failure to comply with the 2022 Order may leave employer’s open to a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission. Employers should also be aware that the Government has expressed its intention to further extend parent’s leave entitlements to nine weeks from August 2024.
If you have any queries please contact Maura Connolly (Partner), Kate Field (Managing Associate) or any member of the Addleshaw Goddard (Ireland) employment law team.