Rickie Ramdass

FROM time to time we all need to take a break from the stresses of everyday life and whatever it may throw our way.

Every so often we all fall ill, requiring us to take the time to step back, relax and recuperate if we are to function at our best.

It is for these reasons that employees are entitled by law to paid vacation and sick leave provided they fulfil the necessary requirements for obtaining these rights.

In the last column, we spoke of the salaries that minimum wage workers ought to be paid, the rate of overtime payments and the entitlement to lunch and break periods during the workday.

We also addressed the steps employees should take if their employers are not acting in accordance with the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act and the penalties that could be imposed for non-compliance.

This week’s column is a continuation of with the focus being shifted to vacation, sick as well as maternity leave.

Under the Minimum Wage Act, every worker is entitled to two weeks’ vacation leave with pay every year upon the completion of 12 months’ service from the date of employment. This is provided that the employee has worked a minimum of 228 days within that period.

In the case of a part-time worker, he/she shall be paid based on the average salaries received over the preceding three months or the salary received immediately preceding vacation leave, whichever is the higher rate.

It should be noted that where a public holiday falls within the period of a workers’ vacation leave, the worker is entitled to one additional vacation day with pay for every such holiday.

Here is in interesting fact that most of us may not be aware of.

Did you know that if you are on vacation and becomes sick, you are entitled to one additional vacation day, with pay, for every such day provided that the sick leave is certified by a doctor?

But there is a catch. If this were to occur, those days will be deducted from whatever remaining sick leave days you may have.

When it comes to sick leave, Section 7(1) of the Act states that a worker is entitled to 14 days leave per year with pay provided the worker has been employed for a period of at least six months.

By law, employees ought not to be victimised by employers for utilising their sick leave days. Should this take place, again, the employer may face penalties for non-compliance with the Act.

Many readers have previously questioned what takes place should an employee not use all of his sick leave days by the end of a given year.

There is nothing in law that state specifically what would occur. However, in many instances those days are “lost” while in others, it is a practice that employers, if they choose, may grant their workers a “sick leave bonus” at the end of the year, as an incentive to motivate them into attending work more often during the year.

Let’s face it, many of us have “called in sick” in the past when we were perfectly fine but did so anyway because we “have days to take.”

Well the sick leave bonus is aimed at discouraging this type of behaviour. But again, it should be noted that employers are not mandated to grant such an incentive.

The last issue we will address in this column is the grant of maternity leave.

Under the Act, a pregnant worker is entitled to maternity leave and to resume work after such leave.

The Act state that at least 150 days prior to her confinement, a worker is required to supply her employer with a medical certificate stating an approximate date of delivery.

A worker is entitled to proceed on six weeks’ leave prior to the expected due date stated in the medical and is not required to return to work sooner than seven weeks after giving birth.

At least two weeks prior to her intended return to work, the employee is required to submit her employer stating the actual date of birth, certifying her fitness to return to work and indicating the intended date of return.

During the period of maternity leave, a worker shall be entitled to payment calculated by computing the difference between her pay and any maternity benefits that she may be entitled to under the National Insurance Act.

Currently, there is no stipulation in law that allows paternity leave to expectant fathers.

It is your right to know your rights.

Continue to look out

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Although it comes at an unbearably high price, the COVID-19 pandemic brings opportunities for change that have been long needed but have hitherto gone to waste.

My headline today is not a typographical error. As suggested below, it is still uncertain whether the Government’s policy of siq, that is separate, isolate and quarantine, is a sound enough response to our COVID-19 crisis. We just don’t know yet.

COVID-19 is shaking civilisation to its core. Over one million persons are infected in 200 countries and over 55,000 have already died. Economies, industrialised and developing, are reeling. Global supply chains are being broken and the threat of shortages hangs in the air.

When we will have overcome the COVID-19 multi-pronged attack on Trinidad and Tobago, we will face associated problems ranging from the economy under severe stress such as it has never been before, with unemployment at a crisis level, disruption of the education system leaving all stakeholders confused, and possible shortage of foods.

The action taken by the Government over the past two or three weeks with respect to control and containment of the COVID-19 virus, which has been in line, by and large, with the action taken by other countries, ought to be supported if we are to weather this virulent epidemic.

It is a well-established truism that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On the basis of and in recognition of this reality, conversations are taking place among various professional and sectoral elites about how not to let this moment pass without taking advantage of it.