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State planning to permit work options during long-term sick leave

The digilugu.ee e-patient webpage.
The digilugu.ee e-patient webpage. Source: ERR

The Ministry of Social Affairs has sent a draft bill for coordination which would, it it were to enter law, permit sick leave to be extended beyond its current two-month limit if the person in question continues to work part time, or with lighter duties.

The amendments would also alter other aspects of the incapacity benefit system.

The stated purpose of the amendments is to enable employees to receive sick pay income while maintaining contact with work life and avoiding permanent work incapacity, according to the ministry.

Lii Pärg, head of the ministry's health equity policy and one of the authors of the amendments says that, so far, the benefits system starts dealing with permanent work incapacity after the fact, whereas the proposed changes will be the first step towards preempting this state of affairs.

Pärg said: "Both our practice and that of other countries has demonstrated that the longer a person is away from work, the less likely they are to return to work. Then, permanent work incapacity develops."

This not only takes the person out of the workforce for good, but also leads to increased poverty.

"Coping economically is in decline, especially for people with lower incomes," she added.

Working via this long-term sick leave proposal would be voluntary both on the part of the employee and the employer, though the guidance of a specialist or occupational health doctor may be required, Pärg said.

The amendment could affect the 17,000 employees who on average are on sick leave for more than 60 days in a year. The ministry estimates that 5,000 of these people would use the opportunity to work during sick leave along the lines noted above, while around 1,800 would require services supported by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa), instead, ie. would be registered unemployed.

In any event the revised work incapacity system will be operational from April 1, 2024, with its implementation partly financed by the European Social Fund.

Within the framework of the same legislative amendments as proposed, changes concerning the payment of incapacity benefit are planned.

For example, in the future, parents will be eligible for a care allowance of up to 60 calendar days in cases of nursing a child.

Up to now, it had been viable to obtain a certificate for care leave of longer than 12 days only in cases of treatment for cancer, whereas going forward this will be decided by the attending physician and will depend on the nature of the illness.

Additionally, voluntarily compensation by an employer to an employee for loss of earnings due to temporary incapacity for work would be exempt from social tax.

The bill also states that if an employee who is pregnant or entitled to maternity leave is given lighter duties as a result, the employer would pay them at least 50 percent of their wage as in force on the day before he or she went on sick leave.

The remainder would be paid by the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) by way of compensation for the difference in pay.

The change is key to ensuring equal treatment for all target groups when paying compensation in relation to a gap in pay, in the health insurance system, the ministry says.

The draft amendments are being sent to their coordination round with the relevant authorities before being sent to the cabinet for approval.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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