First three days of sick leave paid again?
Under presently applicable legislation, employees are not entitled to wage compensation for the first three days of temporary inability to work. This practice, referred to as ‘karencni doba’, or a ‘waiting period’ was introduced in 2008 by Mirek Topolánek’s government as a part of some measures to stabilise public budgets. From the very beginning, it was strongly opposed by left-wing deputies, who repeatedly attempted to abolish it. The admissibility of the regulation was also reviewed several times by the Constitutional Court. An amendment to the Labour Code aiming to cancel the waiting period is now, yet again, to be debated by the Chamber of Deputies, and this time it seems to stand a chance of succeeding.
In the beginning, employees were entitled to sickness benefits paid from the sickness insurance system for the entire time of their inability to work. The waiting period was enacted to save costs and also to prevent the abuse of sickness benefits. Upon a proposal of left-wing deputies, the Constitutional Court foiled the first attempt to introduce the waiting period, arguing that the situation whereby the state required employees to pay insurance premiums unconditionally, but only paid benefits under certain conditions, was unconstitutional. The court also emphasised that the state should prevent feigned sicknesses by checking the doctors issuing the sick notes and the employees more thoroughly, rather than by punishing all by blanket sanctions.
Since 2009, however, employees’ wage compensation for the first 14 days (or for the first 21 days) of sickness have been paid by their employers; sickness benefits from the sickness insurance system are only paid from the 15th day of sickness (or from the 22nd day). In response to the mentioned Constitutional Court judgement, the rate of social security premium paid by the employees was reduced by 1.5%. The next right-wing government managed to put through the waiting period, and this time it passed the test of constitutionality.
Employers are, understandably, very happy about the waiting period – since its introduction, the employee sickness rate has dropped significantly. At this point, employers would only agree to abolish the waiting period if an ‘electronic sick note’ system were introduced, allowing them to check up on their sick employees more efficiently. Trade unions, on the other hand, have never really come to terms with the waiting period, arguing its negative impact on employees’ material security and health, and objecting that employees now have to take part of their (paid) vacation instead of sickness leave. However, repeated motions by deputies to abolish the waiting period have so far failed.
Now the situation seems to be different. The new draft amendment proposed by the deputies has gained the support of the government (in resignation) and has a real chance to pass through the legislative process. The original wording of the amendment would abolish the waiting period altogether – employees would be entitled to wage compensation at 60% of the adjusted average earnings starting from the first day of sickness. Employers would be compensated for the increased costs by reducing the rate of sickness insurance premium paid by the employers by 0.2%. The government had previously proposed that if the waiting period was to be cancelled, employers would only pay wage compensation until the 11th day of sickness; now the government suggests that the wage compensation for the first three days of sickness be reduced to 30% of the adjusted average earnings. It is therefore not yet sure in what shape the draft amendment will pass through parliament, if at all.