Minister wants permanent sick pay from day two of illness
Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE) is to propose to the cabinet that a temporary sick pay system put in place in 2020, nationwide, be made permanent. Groups representing both employers and employees are broadly in favor of doing the same.
The practice was in place during the worst of the Covid pandemic, in an effort to encourage those who may have contracted the virus to stay home instead of going to work and then passing it on to colleagues.
When put in place, the sick-pay-from-day-two system was intended only to be temporary, after which the scheme in place from 2010, when sick pay was due from day four of an illness, was intended to be returned to.
This system among other things was meant to head of abuse of the system such as employees "throwing a sickie", which, if they did so for a couple of days, would leave them out-of-pocket at the end of the month.
Minister Peterson was also keen to avoid people being unduly stoical in the face of illness of any kind.
He said: "The practice that arose this past winter whereby people stayed at home if they have a cough or a cold is a very 'Swedish' custom, whereby people don't have to play the hero - and they often prefer to play the hero – and whereby they don't come to work and infect colleagues; these (customs) are now taking root [in Estonia] and it would be very wrong to send a signal that this behavior is no longer needed."
Arto Aas, head of the Employers' Confederation (Tööandjate Keskliit), the major lobby group representing employers in Estonia, said: "I believe that the majority of employers have adapted and got used to the new system. It has rather justified itself over the past two years, and I believe that there is no great opposition [to retaining it]."
At the same time, the Covid-era sick-pay system needs analyzing in post-Covid times, Aas added.
"The biggest risk is still abuse of the system. If it is too easy to stay at home and someone else has to pay for it, this will cost society, both employers and the state, very dearly," he added.
On the employees side, Jaan-Hendrik Toomel, head of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (Ametiühingute Keskliit), said the newer system was preferable, and actually had the effect of cutting down overall days lost due to illness.
Toomel said: "We can see that employees who have fallen ill take sick leave more readily [than before], but at the same time these sick leave periods last for a shorter period of time. We can see that this has benefited both employees and employers and, in the same way, ultimately, also the state."
The cabinet will discuss the issue at its regular Thursday meeting this week. Should Peterson's proposal meet with a favorable response, some €29 million will need to be found from the state's coffers, in order to provide sufficient sums to the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa), the state agency which administers state sick pay.
Minister Peterson said that employers should not be hit too hard since, even though they start paying sick pay from day two of a period of illness, and not day four as previously, overall the employer is liable for sick pay only for four days (ie. days two to five inclusive) and not five as under the old system.
In other words under the system put in place during the pandemic, the state started picking up the tab from day six, and not day nine, as had previously been the case.
Of other potential hesitations from the employers' side, however, Arto Aas said it was still not viable for employers to check whether an individual was genuinely sick (employers may often require a doctors' note – ed.).
Sick pay currently stands at 70 percent of normal earnings.
During the pandemic's peak, Tallinn City Government also put in a system of paying sick pay from day one of a period of illness, meaning the unwell individual had no unpaid days to their name, but this has since lapsed.
The practice of resolutely coming into work even when in no fit state to do so could also be seen in the light of former working practices, dating back to when Estonia was under Soviet occupation, when non-attendance at work was a far graver matter than the state in which one presented at work. Employees drunk on the job, for instance, was not unheard of at that time.
Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!
Editor: Andrew Whyte