On 19 August 2021, the President signed an amendment to the Act on Social Security System and some other acts. With a number of exceptions, the new provisions came into force 14 days after the date of publication. The amendment introduces numerous changes in the current social insurance system, mainly concerning sick leave and sick pay, which are to come into force on 1 January 2022. Although the goal is to ensure proportionality between revenues and costs of the Social Insurance Fund, in the opinion of some experts such thorough changes should be postponed until the epidemiological situation normalizes.
Shorter sick leaves
The key change in the act on social insurance benefits in case of sickness or maternity concerns the length of sickness benefit entitlement period. As before, it will be possible to collect it for 182 days per year, however, in order to renew the right to sickness benefit in the above amount, a 60-day period of uninterrupted work will be necessary, unless the illness after returning to work occurred during pregnancy.
According to the current regulation, in the case of an employee who is on sick leave for up to 182 days in a given year, a return to work for one day is sufficient for the employee to continue receiving sick pay.
The time of collecting sickness benefit after the termination of the sickness insurance title will be shortened. It will be available for a period of 91 days, which is half as long as currently. The 270-day period of inability to work during pregnancy and in the case of tuberculosis, during which the employee is entitled to benefits, also after the termination of the title to insurance, remains unchanged.
The amendment solves the problem of the so-called June pensions. Previously, persons applying for a pension in June were not entitled to quarterly indexations, which resulted in the understatement of benefits by as much as 12%.
The amount of old-age pensions applied for in June 2021 and awarded ex officio in that month (to persons entitled to an old-age pension who have reached retirement age), as well as survivors’ pensions of persons who have died after 31 May 2021, will be recalculated by ZUS according to the rules that are more favourable to pensioners.
The bill also contains changes reffering to, among other things:
- on granting the right to maternity allowance to a person whose employment contract has expired due to the death of the employer;
- unification of the rules of social insurance for partners in one-person limited liability companies, general partnerships, partnerships and limited partnerships;
- new rules for appointing the Supervisory Board of Social Security Fund (ZUS);
- and liquidation of the reserve fund.
However, the draft does not include ZUS’s proposals to introduce a waiting period for maternity and child care benefits. According to the information provided by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, the Ministry is not currently working on an amendment to the Act in this respect.
Will the amendment ensure the commensurability of revenues and costs of the Social Insurance Fund?
The amendment is part of the process of cleaning up the social security system implemented by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy. It is intended to contribute to ensuring proportionality between the revenues and costs of the Social Security Fund. This is because recently there has been a significant increase in state expenditure on sickness insurance.
In 2016, ZUS allocated about PLN 10 billion for the payment of sickness benefits, while in 2020 – PLN 14 billion. The study found that unjustified sick leave more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The changes in sick leave will certainly please employers, who for a long time have been calling for a reform to tighten up the sick leave system. The adopted regulation will certainly help curb the abuse of sick leave by some employees.
While experts recognize the need to modernize the benefits system, they point out some flaws in the amendment. Fighting the abuse of sick leave by some workers should not take away the right to sick pay from those who really need it. Perhaps a more effective solution would be to reduce the amount of benefit paid, which in itself would reduce benefit spending, and would also make benefit abuse less financially viable for the insured in many cases than returning to work.
There are also claims that the increase in the total amount of sickness benefits paid out is mainly due to the pandemic, so the department should hold off on such thorough reforms until the epidemiological situation is normalized.
The legislation passed is not precise enough in many places. For example, it is not entirely clear whether in the case of termination of an employment contract after using up 182 days of sick leave in a given year, the insured is entitled to an additional 91 days of benefits, or whether they are already included in the pool of 182 days. It will be possible to judge whether the amendment will fulfil its purpose after a longer period of time. The Polish social security system is not the most transparent and indeed requires comprehensive changes and reforms, but the amended regulations should be clear and transparent so as not to introduce additional complications.
Karolina Barałkiewicz-Sokal, attorney-at-law (PL)
Paulina Czaja, LL.M., trainee attorney-at-law (PL)