10 January 2019

Uncertainty regarding electronic sick notes and waiting period (karenční doba)

Work on and approval of legislative changes to social security law have recently been reminiscent of Westerns. Whereas the cancellation of the waiting period (karenční doba) was passed by the Chamber of Deputies after years of discussion and subsequently repealed by the Senate, the electronic sick note project was first approved, then postponed, and again proposed in alternative form for discussion among deputies. What is then awaiting us in this respect in 2019?

Barbora Cvinerová
Václav Bělohoubek

It was employers who insisted on linking the cancellation of the waiting period with the introduction of electronic sick notes, as they were afraid that the waiting period cancellation would result in an increase in the number of employees’ short-term inability to work, which is currently very hard for them to check. Electronic sick notes should allow employers a more efficient check of the compliance with regime ordered to the sick employee by their physician.

In the first fourteen days of an employee’s sickness, employers are authorised to check whether the employee fulfils the basic duties of an insured who is temporarily unable to work (such as that they indeed dwell at the given address and adhere to the scope and time of permitted absences from home). This check may only be carried out after the employee delivers a sick note stating the place of stay and the scope of permitted absences from home. More extensive checks over the entire period of sickness may also be performed by the Czech Social Security Administration (the “CSSA”), receiving information about the temporary inability to work directly from attending physicians. 

Despite the fact that employees must deliver sick notes to their employers immediately after they fall ill, in practice, sick notes are often submitted to employers with several-day delays, especially when employees choose to deliver them by post. Employers’ call to accelerate communication between employers, patients, physicians and the CSSA is therefore quite justified. However, the Ministry of Labour’s electronic sick note project responds to their call only partially.

An amendment to the Sickness Insurance Act dealing with electronic sick notes proposes three main measures: the first one shortens the deadline for reporting the inability to work by the attending physician to the CSSA from three to one day. The second one determines the attending physician’s duty to perform such reporting only electronically. The third one introduces the CSSA’s duty to provide information to the employer about the employee’s inability to work based on the employer’s request within eight days.

While the communication between physicians and the CSSA may really accelerate and be carried out online owing to the proposed amendment, reporting towards employers does not change at all. As before, they will have to rely on paper sick notes to be delivered by employees. They may request information about their employee’s inability to work from the CSSA but the response time is impractically long.  

Both the electronic sick note project and the waiting period cancellation are proposed to enter into effect from 1 July 2019. Whereas the discussion of the amendment introducing electronic sick notes is only at its beginning, the amendment cancelling the waiting period will again be voted upon in the Chamber of Deputies. As the waiting period cancellation had broad support among deputies already during the first approval process, it can be expected that the Senate’s verdict will be overruled.

The introduction of electronic sick notes simultaneously with the waiting period cancellation are one of the government’s priorities. We can only hope that lawmakers will prioritise quality over the adoption deadline and the draft amendment will be redrafted yet again.

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