Record high sick leave recorded in January and February
New records for the number of people taking sick leave were set in January and February this year, with almost 15,000 more applications recorded.
In January, 39,000 people filed for sick leave and the number rose to 42,000 in February. Last year, before coronavirus had been recorded in Estonia, the numbers were 27,000 and 25,000 respectively.
Head of the Estonian Health Insurance Fund's (Haigekassa) finance department Riho Peek said the number of people taking leave is on the rise. But he said the amount is not as high as it could be as many people are working from home, meaning they can still work if they have mild symptoms or are a close contact. Parents are also now more likely to work from home if they have a sick child instead of being forced to take the day off.
Peek also said the length of the average sick leave is shorter than usual, at 11 days rather than 13. He said this is likely due to the new compensation measure which pays from the second day of sick leave instead of the fourth.
This measure was introduced by the government at the start of the year to encourage people to take sick leave rather than go to work with mild symptoms and increase the risk of spreading coronavirus and is likely to be extended beyond April.
However, CEO of the Estonian Employers' Confederation Arto Aas said since the solution is now more costly for employers, the union does not support adopting this crisis measure permanently.
"It is justified now that this system will continue until the end of the year," he said. "We are ready to accept it, but we would like reassurance that this temporary change to the system will not last forever."
Head of the Estonian Society of Family Doctors Le Vallikvi said doctors' workloads have increased but said they do not recommend taking sick leave as much as people might expect.
"I would say that people understand very well when they are able to work and when they are not able to work. The point with coronavirus is that these symptoms vary a lot," Vallikivi explained.
"Some experience almost nothing. Sick leave is, in principle, a very subjective thing. It depends on the nature of the person's work, some people can work with a broken leg, some people cannot."
Riho Peek predicted the trend could continue in March. He said if the extended sick leave policy is extended until the end of the year, the Estonian Health Insurance Fund will need additional resources to cover the costs.
The Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund has said it will also need more money if the wage support scheme is extended.
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Editor: Helen Wright