I propose to take Questions Nos. 197 to 199, inclusive, together.
Reflecting the obligations to self-isolate laid down in public health advice and to assist in the prevention of the possible onward spread of the virus in the workplace, special leave with pay for COVID-19 arrangements were introduced by my Department in March 2020. This was a temporary measure in response to the unprecedented circumstances presented by the COVID pandemic. Special Leave with Pay has been used in lieu of sick leave across the Public Service to assist in the prevention of the possible onward spread of COVID-19 in the work premises.
From the outset of the pandemic my officials have been clear, via the “Guidance and FAQs for Public Service Employers during COVID-19” document, that Special Leave with Pay is a temporary measure which is kept under regular review. Changes have been made to the arrangements over the course of the last two years in line with changes to public health, Government guidance and the general return to the workplace.
It is important to note that Special Leave with Pay is not ending. From 1 July 2022, Special Leave with Pay for COVID-19 will continue to be available for the stated self-isolation period, which is currently 7 days. This is in keeping with the rationale of assisting in the prevention of the possible onward spread of COVID-19 in the work premises.
I would also point out that the Public Service Management (Sick Leave) Regulations were introduced in 2014. It was a significant reform development that standardised and simplified paid sick leave arrangements across all sectors of the Public Service. All illnesses are treated equally under the Public Service Sick Leave Regulations and equity is a fundamental part of the Scheme.
The Public Service Sick Leave scheme provides for the payment of the following to staff during periods of absence from work due to illness or injury:
- A maximum of 92 days on full pay in a rolling one year period
- Followed by a maximum of 91 days on half pay in a rolling one year period
- Subject to a maximum of 183 days paid sick leave in a rolling four year period
There is the potential for access to additional sick leave in certain circumstances as guided by the Critical Illness Protocol.
I understand that the Department of Health are working on a proposal to deal with certain "long COVID" cases in the health sector and my officials will examine any proposals as soon as they are finalised.