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GP-certified sick pay a ‘sucker punch’ for workers
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07 Jul 2023 / employment Print

GP-certified sick pay is a ‘sucker punch’ for workers

A recent survey of human-resources (HR) professionals has shown that 30% of employers do not have a flexible working policy in place, while almost as many (27%) do not have a remote-working policy.

The survey, which covered the public and private sectors, was carried out by business-law firm Mason Hayes & Curran (MHC) at its recent webinar on employment law (21 June).

The event discussed several significant pieces of new legislation governing working conditions, sick leave, whistleblowing, work-life balance and gender-pay-gap reporting, which was described as a “tricky piece of legislation”.

Organisations needed to crunch the numbers, do their calculations and put their pay findings on their website, where it would sit for three years, the webinar heard.

The gender-pay-gap report requires a range of metrics – including the mean and median hourly rates, as well as bonuses and cars – and the report is an annual obligation.

Organisations with over 250 employees were asked to report on the matter for the first time in 2022, with the threshold going down to 150 this year.

This will be a massive change, and huge undertaking, as employers pick a ‘snapshot’ date in June, and reporting period of 12 months before that date, with the report published six months later.

Speakers advised picking the same ‘snapshot’ date each year, for consistent reporting.

Melanie Crowley (MHC partner and head of employment and benefits), said that the firm was advising employers to prepare now for the Work Life Balance Act, which would legislate for remote and flexible working when it came into force.

“Employees will shortly have the right to request remote working, and employers should create or update their policies now in preparation for this new legislation,” she stated.

Whistleblowing policy

The survey also found that more than one-fifth of employers had had to deal with a protected disclosure, but 17% did not have a whistleblowing policy, and 23% did not have the required internal channels in place for workers to report wrongdoing.

Lucy O'Neill (MHC senior associate) said that, while legislation on protected disclosures had been amended, some employers had been slow to update their policies and procedures to comply with their new obligations.

“Arguably the biggest and the most important change is that employers are required to establish, maintain and operate internal reporting channels and procedures through which workers can make reports of wrongdoing,” she stated.

The legislation took a broad definition of ‘workers’, Crowley said, and was now applicable to outsourced service providers, as well as volunteers.

Employers should not ignore information about wrongdoing given anonymously either, though the identity must be disclosed for investigation purposes, she said.

Matters relating to the worker’s own contract of employment are not protected, but are classed as grievances.

Sick pay policy

The survey found that, while fewer than half (45%) of employers had updated their sick-pay policy in line with new legislation introduced in January, 91% of attendees polled had an existing sick-pay scheme.

The rate of sick pay was 70% of the employer daily rate, up to a maximum of €110 per day, which could be a lot for a worker on minimum wage, the lawyers noted.

An employee still on probation is also now entitled to sick leave after 13 weeks.

To be eligible for statutory sick pay, employees must get a note from a registered medical practitioner, on the first day of absence, which was quite different to current practice in many workplaces, the webinar heard.

Cost burden

Given the cost of a GP visit, and the cap on sick-pay rates, this could be considered a “sucker punch”, the webinar heard, and some employees may not avail of sick pay because of the cost burden of going to the doctor.

Figuring out a daily rate for workers on commission, or allowances, or whose pay goes up or down, may also be difficult, and involve extra work for employers.

Where an existing employer sick-pay scheme was more favourable, that should be applied, the webinar heard.

There are also plans to update the legislation yearly, to extend the numbers of sick days – to five days in 2024, seven days in 2025, and ten days in 2026.

The event also reviewed new EU rules on transparent and predictable working conditions, which came into force in December last year.

When asked, just under half of employers said that they had updated their template employment contracts or reviewed their probationary periods in line with the new legislation.

O'Neill said that the new EU rules had flown “largely under the radar” for many employers, pointing out that the legislation introduced some significant new obligations – including limits on the length of probationary periods.

Listeners were advised to review worker contracts to ensure compliance with the new regulations.

Five days of unpaid medical care leave for employees with caring responsibilities, entirely separate to the existing force majeur rights, was also introduced by the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023.

Breastfeeding breaks may also now be taken for two years, up from six months, and the act also introduces five days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence.

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