Changes to public service sick leave arrangements: Your questions answered
Thursday 19th July 2012
(Last updated 16th August 2012)
Why and how are public service sick leave arrangements being changed?
At the end of 2011, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin announced the Government’s intention to legislate to change public service sick leave arrangements. Unions rejected proposals subsequently put forward by management at the Labour Relations Commission in May 2012.
Under the Croke Park procedures, the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) then attempted to broker an agreement between the two sides. Although some progress was made, it wasn’t possible to reach agreement. The issue was then referred to the Labour Court, where a hearing took place on 10th July 2012. The Labour Court issued its recommendation on 19th July 2012. Labour Court decisions on matters covered by Croke Park are binding on both sides and the Government will now legislate to implement the Court’s recommendation. The new legislation will amend existing contractual provisions.
The Government’s stated aim in changing the arrangements is to save money. A recent report submitted to the Public Accounts Committee by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) said that public service sick leave currently costs the exchequer €550 million a year. Almost 90% of this (€488 million) relates to sickness that is certified by a doctor.
Standardisation of sick leave arrangements
Current sick leave arrangements vary slightly across sectors (see HERE for details). The new legislation will replace these with single sick leave arrangements for all civil and public servants. Management has confirmed to unions that the new scheme must also apply to section 38 agencies in the health service, including voluntary hospitals. There is to be further consultation about the implementation of the measures in education as the changes are likely to have a disproportionate effect on teachers and lecturers because of their fixed holiday periods.
What’s the difference between certified and self-certified sick leave?
Certified sick leave is certified by a doctor. Self-certified sick leave simply requires the worker to certify that they were sick on the day(s) in question. It’s often referred to as ‘uncertified leave’.
What are the new arrangements for self-certified sick leave?
In future, all civil and public servants can take up to 7 self-certified sick days in a rolling 24-month period. The current arrangement is for 7 self-certified days in a rolling 12-month period. Management’s original proposal was for 3 self-certified days in a rolling 12-month period. Click HERE for a summary of the changes.
What are the new arrangements for sick leave certified by a doctor?
The current arrangements allow for six months sick leave on full pay, followed by six months on half pay, in a rolling four-year period. Once this is used up, staff who do not retire on health grounds are paid the ‘pension rate’ (see explanation below).
The new arrangements distinguish between non-critical sick leave and leave related to critical illnesses or serious physical injuries.
Certified sick leave arrangements for those with critical illnesses or serious physical injuries will remain as they are (six months on full pay followed by six months on half pay in a rolling four-year period). Thereafter payment of the ‘pension’ (rehabilitation) rate will be limited to 12 months.
Certified sick leave arrangements for those with non-critical illnesses will be changed to three months on full pay, followed by three months on half pay in a rolling four-year period. Thereafter payment of the ‘pension’ (rehabilitation) rate will be limited to 18 months.
The time restrictions on payment of the ‘pension’ (rehabilitation) rate mean that no public servant will receive any kind sick leave payment for more than two years.
Click HERE for a summary of the changes.
What is a ‘critical illness’?
The new arrangements distinguish between non-critical sick leave and situations where a worker is “incapacitated as a result of critical illnesses or serious physical injury.” However, it does not define these terms.
Decisions over whether the ‘critical illness’ provisions apply will be taken on a case-by-case basis and will rest mainly on medical evidence from a workers’ doctor, which must be confirmed by the employer’s occupational health provider. The worker’s attendance record will also be a factor in the decision, but most weight will be given to the medical evidence.
What happens if there is a dispute over whether I have a ‘critical illness’?
If there is disagreement between your doctor and your employer’s occupational health provider over the medical evidence, this will be resolved according to the existing arrangements in your sector.
If there is agreement over the medical position, but disagreement over whether the extended leave period should apply, IMPACT will be able to take the case through the industrial relations process in your sector.
The Labour Court said “recourse to critical illness cover should be regarded as an exceptional and normally non-recurring occurrence.” While management has discretion over its provision it should not “seek an unfettered discretion” and the Court recommended that the parties have further talks to agree a protocol setting out criteria and an independent appeals mechanism. If agreement cannot be reached, it said the issue could be referred back to the Court.
What if I suffer more than one incidence of critical illness in a four-year period?
Management’s original proposal was that the critical illness/serious injury provisions should only apply once in any worker’s career. IMPACT argued against this and the Labour Court agreed with the union.
When do the changes come into effect?
The changes to self-certified sick leave will come into effect as soon as possible, most likely through the issue of departmental circulars. The changes to certified sick leave will be introduced by legislation and are expected to take effect from 1st January 2014.
What if I’m off sick because of an occupational illness or injury?
The arrangements for staff on sick leave because of occupational injuries or illnesses, including assaults, will not change.
What if I have already taken self-certified sick leave during the last 24 months?
Any self-certified sick leave you have taken in the last 12 months will immediately be included as leave taken in the new 24-month rolling period. So, if you took two day’s self-certified leave in the last 12 months, you will now have up to five days sick leave available in the new rolling 24-month period.
What if I have already taken certified sick leave in the four-year period up to 1st January 2014?
It will be included as sick leave taken in the new four-year rolling period that applies when the new arrangements take effect, probably from 1st January 2014.
What if I’m sick but have exhausted my self-certified sick leave?
You will not be able to take paid sick leave unless you have a doctor’s certificate. Any such leave will be included as certified sick leave taken in any rolling four-year period.
What if my illness is pregnancy-related?
Management has confirmed that the standard practice in the civil service is that pregnancy-related illnesses that occur during pregnancy do not affect a worker’s sick leave record. Under the new arrangements, workers with pregnancy-related illnesses that occur during pregnancy will go onto half pay at the appropriate time (the new sick leave time limits will apply) but will then have their sick leave extended so that they remain on half pay rather than going onto the ‘pension’ (rehabilitation) rate.
How will the changes affect part-time workers and work sharers?
The new arrangements will be applied to part-time staff and work sharers in the same way as the existing scheme.
Will it still be possible to phase a return to work after long-term sick leave?
Yes. The current arrangements will continue to apply.
Are there any other changes to the scheme or its application?
What is the ‘pension rate’?
(Amended 16th August 2012)
After their paid sick leave is used up, staff who do not retire on health grounds receive an income based on their accrued pension benefits as if they had retired on ill health grounds. This is called the ‘pension rate of pay.’
The pension rules that would have applied had they actually retired on ill health grounds apply. So, if they are eligible for ill health added years had they actually retired, this is taken into account in calculating the pension rate of pay. However, any added years arising from purchase of service arrangements are not taken into account as no retirement has actually taken place.
For example a worker who earns €40,000 and has 20 years service, and receives the maximum ill health added years of 6.66 years, would receive an annual ‘pension rate’ of €13,330. Pension rate of pay is not reckonable for pension service.
What is the ‘rehabilitation rate’?
Under the new arrangements, the term ‘pension rate of pay’ (see above) is being changed to ‘temporary rehabilitation rate’. IMPACT and other unions successfully argued that the social protection rate for disability protection should be used as a floor in calculating the rehabilitation rate. This means no worker will receive less than the social welfare rate. See ‘what is the pension rate’ above.
What if I’m a pre-95 public servant and am out sick with a critical illness for more than two years?
In its submission to the Labour Court, IMPACT and other unions proposed having the social protection rate used as a floor in calculating pension/rehabilitation pay and during the period of up to 12
months where the person if ‘off payroll.’ In other words, we said pre-95 public servants should have an additional (third) year on the pension/rehabilitation rate. In its recommendation the Labour Court said the union proposal was “reasonable and should be accepted by management.”
Will this affect my income continuance insurance arrangements?
It is envisaged that IMPACT will negotiate revised terms with our insurance providers once the details of the new scheme are finalised.