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Sick leave doctor's notes & the Irish law

Sick leave doctor's notes & the Irish law
4 minute read

Like it or not, we all get sick at some point. Whether it is a common cold when the seasons change, putting out your back from lifting something heavy or a chronic ailment that has lasting repercussions on your health, part of being human is that we are not immune to illness. Getting ill can be a pain, but it can also impact on your professional life. So what is expected of you and your employer when you have to take sick leave from work in Ireland? 

The law vs employment contract

Under Irish law, employers are not required to pay their employees for sick leave. However, employers should stipulate in the employment contract, which they are obliged under the Employment (Information) Act 1995 to provide to new workers within the first two months of starting a job, what their policy on sick leave is. The contract should state the employer’s terms for incapacity to work due to illness or injury, so the first course of action to take in the event of getting sick should be to consult your employment contract to find out what your employer’s position is in relation to this. 

Medical certificates 

Beyond a certain timeframe which should be specified in the employment contract, it is likely you will be required to provide your employer with a medical certificate. This should be sought from a GP or hospital physician, and should correspond to the 2015 certification guidelines issued to medical practitioners. A typical case would entail you alerting your employer to illness on the first day, with further communication if the illness extends into a second day. On the third or fourth day a medical cert would be required, with a further medical cert issued each following week for the duration of the illness. Your condition should be revised with the issuance of each medical cert so the employer can expect to know when you will be returning to work. 

Certified sick leave vs unauthorised absence

Although an employer is under no obligation to compensate employees for sick leave, most employers will include a maximum duration (usually about a month) of certified medical leave in the employment contract, which will be paid. In some instances, employers will allow workers to exchange bank holidays for sick days or holiday days. However, if an employee does not provide their employer with the correct certification or communicate with the employer as outlined in the contract, this can be viewed as unauthorised absence and could incur serious consequences, including suspension or dismissal, although it is difficult under Irish law to terminate a work contract due to illness. Communication with your employer is key in this instance, as it will cultivate an atmosphere of trust and transparency. 

Contemporary workplace policy

If you don’t want to take additional time off work or go through the hassle of getting a sick note, it is worth broaching the subject of flexible working with your employer. Given the nature of 21st century employment, many companies, especially tech startups and multinationals such as Google or Indeed, have created a culture of remote working and unlimited holidays. These are some of the perks of working for a big corporations, but the ethos can also trickle down into smaller companies. If this is the case, it is likely that you can negotiate working from home on the days you feel sick, or taking a personal day as part of your unlimited holidays. Just make sure you are upfront with your employer in this regard and keep them regularly updated on how you are feeling, as you may greatly reduce the need to provide a sick note. 

Where and how to get a medical cert

If you are sick, you can go to your GP or family doctor and they will give you a sick note. However, a doctor’s appointment is costly, with GPs often charging between €40 and €65 for the appointment alone. It is often difficult for people to find the time to see the doctor at short notice, and GPs may have a backlog of patients so might have to defer your visit a few days. However, with the advent of new medical platforms and apps available online and on your smartphone, it is cheaper and more efficient than ever to have a consultation with a GP over Skype. Sites such as HealthHero Ireland offer hassle free services for a range of medical requirements, from psychology to sexual health, including appointments with GPs for the purpose of getting sick note. The cost is substantially less than visiting your family doctor, and patients can talk to a GP for just €40 seven days a week. Booking is available online, after which you have your consultation and then receive your signed sick note in the post, or as a PDF is this suits your employer’s requirements. This is a fantastic option for busy parents, students and those that are housebound. 

Illness benefit and injury benefit

There may be a possibility that you qualify for Illness Benefit from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection independently of your employer if you satisfy certain PRSI conditions and contributions. In the case of injury at work, it would be advisable to contact the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, which processes claims of this nature. 

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