Five Surprising Facts About European Sick Leave Pay

Five Surprising Facts About European Sick Leave Pay

Newly sourced and compiled data on rates of sick leave pay across Europe has led to some fascinating revelations – chiefly about how the continent’s nations stack up against one another in terms of payouts for workers’ enforced absence periods.

Multiple statistics were dug up by UK company Vouchercloud, then complied into a series of charts and infographics which have certainly raised a few eyebrows for the wild disparities they appear to expose.

Below we’ve listed five of our key findings after scouring the data, along with a couple of suggestions as to what conclusions we might be might be able to draw from it all.

  1. The average rates are hugely inconsistent

Ok, so perhaps this first point isn’t that surprising; when a continent is as large, sprawling and culturally diverse as Europe, you’d probably expect to find a good bit of variation in the ways different governments approach rules around something like employee sick leave pay.

This is especially true when you consider how wildly variable Europe’s numerous national economies are: the average full-time worker in Norway, for instance, will earn around ten times what their Bulgarian cousins might expect to bring home per month.

However, there isn’t anything remotely approaching a consensus – even in proportional wage terms – when it comes to arrangements for employees temporarily unable to attend their jobs, either in the short term or for longer stretches.

  1. The league table doesn’t reflect economic power

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the more populous a nation is, and the higher its punching weight in terms of global markets, the more robust its provision for workers’ ill health might be. But you’d be wrong: look at how far down the tables the UK places, for example, against somewhere like the relatively tiny Liechtenstein. In fact, the likes of the UK and Ireland appear to be offering far weaker benefit packages to their workers than most other European nations do.

Many smaller countries that aren’t exactly seen as major global economic forces in their own right – Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Luxembourg – offer full-time employees a dramatically higher proportion of their wage packet while on sick leave than most French, Spanish or Italian companies are obliged to.

  1. It doesn’t reflect internal economic health, either

Ok, so even if the compensation for absentee employees across Europe isn’t necessarily reflective of each nation’s global economic might, presumably it falls broadly in line with how robust their own internal markets are…right? Well, in a word, no.

The Greek economy is one notable example: despite famously having been teetering on the brink of utter economic meltdown in recent years, workers in Greece can expect to receive nearly twice the income that a French employee would see over the course of a week’s absence through illness – and upwards of four times what their British colleagues will generally be paid.

Similarly surprising examples can found all over the data charts, with the likes of Cyprus, Poland and Croatia outstripping the average offers made to English, Irish and Finnish workers many times over for the same week-long period.

  1. The devil is in the detail

Obviously, the raw data mined to create these sorts of fascinating charts and infographics usually needs exploring a little more closely in order to yield a fuller understanding of exactly what’s going on – and the same is certainly true here.

For example, let’s examine the fact that the UK places so low down in terms of typical offers to employees absent for just a week: one possible exacerbating factor here is that the UK, like in several other EU countries, operates using an initial ‘qualifying period’ (typically three days, but sometimes longer), during which no money is paid at all.

These initial periods of financial limbo ease considerably over longer-term forced absences from jobs, and so the league table does get reshuffled somewhat when looking at, say, a three-month sick leave period. (Even then, though, the UK still lags far behind the likes of Germany, Norway, Denmark and most of the rest Europe, as do a number of the continent’s other most famously resilient economies.)

  1. There’s even less clarity behind the scenes

Just like businesses in many (but not all) other countries across Europe, companies in the UK are obliged to pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at a minimum rate set by their national government. However, this doesn’t stop them from tweaking their offers individually: they can offer sick leave pay at rates significantly above the statutory minimum, or run numerous additional schemes of their own devising if they so choose (the data in Vouchercloud’s research deals strictly with SSP or other national equivalents).

Understandably, this leads to a good deal of confusion for citizens of all countries – a survey by think tank Demos in the UK, for instance, found that 51% of respondents believed they would receive full wages during illness, when in fact they would only typically get something like 8.6% of their salary over the course a single week.

Perhaps this sort of misconception is one of the reasons why British workers still average over nine days’ sick leave per year – significantly more than many other European and global workforces – despite the relatively raw deal that this appears to saddle them with.

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