Latest COVID-19 news and instant advice
Below, we provide the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) news that affects employers. Should you need help with any business issue, speak with a HR and health & safety expert any time day or night on 1890 252 923 or request a callback here.
Peninsula's Service and Operations Director Alan Hickey was recently interviewed on KCLR FM about ‘The Great Resignation’. Listen to his interview here, beginning at 22 minutes and 38 seconds.
In a move that will come as welcome news to both businesses and the public, Cabinet has agreed on a reopening timeline that will see the majority of COVID-19 restrictions ended by October 22nd.
Employment Consultancy Manager Kevin Callan appeared on Live 95 FM to discuss the issue of employers asking staff to book time off or pay time back to get their COVID-19 vaccine. He also covered what rights employees have.
Listen to the interview here.
In our article, we look at some of the main points of interest to employers published in The Labour Court's Annual Report for 2020.
Due to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the way we work, the European Commission is planning to update worker safety rules to protect the health of almost 170 million EU workers over the 2021-2027 period.
The Government has launched the Economic Recovery Plan which sets out various measures designed to boost economic activity and get people back to work.
In our concise article, we discuss the key points for employers and business owners.
The Government has confirmed the reopening schedule for the summer months. We've outlined the key reopening dates for business owners to be mindful of in our article.
The updated Work Safely Protocol reflects the most up-to-date public health advice for the workplace, outlining measures required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. It also includes guidance on ventilation, vaccinations, and antigen testing.
Our article discusses the updated Protocol in greater detail.
The Government has confirmed a reopening schedule for business and society over the next two months. Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the latest plan, ‘Recovery and Resilience: The Path Ahead’, which provides business owners with clear timelines to prepare for reopening.
Peninsula's Service and Operations Director Alan Hickey recently spoke with Limerick Live 95FM where he discussed employers restricting employees taking holidays abroad.
You can listen to his interview here.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has signed the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect, allowing employees to switch off from work outside of normal working hours.
To better understand how this affects your business and employees, including remote workers, read our article.
Announcing the cautious phased relaxation of restrictions, Taoiseach Mícheál Martin confirmed that the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, Pandemic Unemployment Payment, and COVID-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit will remain in place until June 30th. The suspension of the right of employees to make redundancy claims following temporary periods of layoff and short-time work (already extended a number of times) will likewise remain in place until June 30th this year.
As forecast in last year's Budget, from April 1st, working parents will benefit from an additional three weeks of paid Parents' Leave and Benefit. That's not the only entitlement extension, however. Find out more in our article.
The Government today confirmed its decision to extend Level 5 restrictions nationally until April 5th. The next six weeks will focus on monitoring the impact of a phased reopening of schools and childcare services.
The key points from a business and employer perspective are set out below:
- No change to existing Level 5 restrictions until April 5th. 5km limit remains in place.
- Phased reopening of schools to begin on March 1st.
- ECCE childcare scheme to resume on March 8th.
- Income and business supports extended to the end of June.
Peninsula's Service and Operations Director Alan Hickey recently spoke with KCLR about the challenges employers face if employees choose not to avail of a COVID-19 vaccination. He also discussed workplace bullying and working from home issues.
You can listen to his interview here.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has expressed his concern that the reduction in case numbers is slowing and has asked employers in particular to play their part in bringing down community transmission numbers. The CMO specifically referred to workplaces and retail settings as areas in which people need to take real care.
While community transmission remains high, employers need to be very mindful of their duties under health & safety legislation. Where remote working is possible and where it would eliminate the risk of transmission or infection, employers must comply with the CMO’s directions for staff to work from home. Mitigation of a health & safety risk should only be considered once it is established that it is not possible to eliminate the risk.
Business owners and managers also need to be very familiar with the mandatory measures in the Work Safely Protocol and ensure that workplace procedures and control measures protect staff and customers as much as possible. If work cannot be completed from home, the onus is very much on these employers to ensure that they have effective health & safety measures in place to prevent any workplace infections.
The Government has launched ‘Making Remote Work’, the country’s new National Remote Work Strategy.
From an employer’s perspective, the introduction of an employee right to request remote working will be of most interest. While employees will have the right to request remote working arrangements, it is not an absolute right and employers may refuse a request provided they have a justifiable reason for doing so.
The announcement of the remote work strategy confirms that Government policy is now strongly directed towards making remote, blended and flexible working arrangements a much bigger part of working life after COVID-19.
After a very difficult year for the SME sector, the timing of this fundamental employment law update will be another compliance challenge for employers toward the end of the year.
Read our article for more information.
The Health and Safety Authority and Workplace Relations Commission recently produced a unified code of practice titled the 'Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work'.
This code recognises cyberbullying as a type of ‘improper conduct’ which employers have a duty to prevent (as far as reasonably practicable) under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
For more information, read our article on online harassment risks when working from home.
Further restrictions have been added under Level 5 of the Plan for Living with COVID.
Our article covers those that impact employers.
The Government has confirmed that the country will return to stricter Level 5 restrictions until January 31st, 2021.
The key changes are set out below:
- All non-essential retail must close from COB December 31st.
- Gyms and other fitness facilities will close from COB December 31st along with outdoor golf and tennis.
- Restaurants and bars serving food will remain closed (open for takeaway and delivery services only).
- ‘Wet pubs’ or pubs only serving alcohol, will remain closed.
- Cinemas and galleries remain closed, with libraries accessible online.
- The 5km travel limit will be back in place.
- Schools will remain closed until January 11th, 2021.
On Friday, November 27th, the Irish Government announced that the country will move to Level 3 on the Living with COVID-19 Plan with certain special measures from December 1st.
Retail and personal services will reopen on Tuesday, December 1st, with the hospitality sector set to reopen on Friday, December 4th.
Read our article on Level 3 to find out more.
Our Service and Operations Director Alan Hickey recently spoke about the need for employers to thread carefully when considering introducing a mandatory vaccination policy once they're available.
In a recent interview with Tipp FM, Peninsula's Service and Operations Director Alan Hickey provided advice for employers and employees on what to expect during Level 5.
Listen to his interview below.
The Government confirmed that the whole country will move to the highest Level 5 restrictions on the Living with COVID-19 Plan from midnight Wednesday, October 21st. The restrictions are to remain in place for six weeks with a review after four weeks. Tighter restrictions on work and travel will mean a return to working from home for many and thousands of job losses.
The Government has decided to impose Level 3 restrictions nationwide from midnight tonight. While the move is bad news for businesses in general, the hospitality sector is likely to suffer the most.
What rights do working parents have when there's a COVID-19 outbreak at their child's school? Our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey recently covered this in an article that you can read here.
The Government has announced its new plan to manage living with COVID-19 over the next six to nine months.
The ‘Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19’ sets out five Levels that the Government hopes will help the country “…move on from a short-term emergency response approach to a medium-term approach to managing risk and repairing the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted on society.”
For a broader breakdown of the plan, read our article.
The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), part of the Government’s July Jobs Stimulus plan, came into effect in place of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) on September 1st.
This support could help your business should you meet certain eligibility criteria.
Our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey recently spoke to Radio Kerry about the concerns businesses may have regarding redundancies.
Listen to his interview below.
The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme ceased on August 31st and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme has taken its place. The new scheme has been available to employers since the pay period began on July 1st and will remain in place until March 31st, 2021.
To see if your business qualifies for the new scheme, check the eligibility criteria here.
Our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey recently spoke to KCLR 96FM and covered off a number of pressing COVID-19 business issues, including COVID-19 testing in the workplace.
Listen to his in-depth interview below.
Last night, the Government announced a number of measures to curtail the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. The Government underlined the importance of adhering to the Return to Work Safely Protocol and specified that employees should continue to work from home and avoid public transport until September 13th.
The Government also announced other measures, including the requirement of restaurants, cafes, and pubs that serve food to close by 11:30pm and adhere to strict health & safety measures. Sporting events must now take place behind closed doors with indoor and outdoor gathering numbers also reduced. Furthermore, the Government will finalise and publish a Roadmap for Resilience and Recovery before September 13th which will include advice for those living in a local lockdown.
Minister Simon Harris has launched a new incentive scheme aimed at employers which will entitle them to a €3,000 financial incentive should they take on new apprentices. This will be available to employers who took on an apprentice as far back as March 1st and will run until the end of the year.
Find out more in our article.
Provided your business can meet certain eligibility criteria, you'll be entitled to receive a flat-rate wage subsidy for each eligible employee on your payroll.
To learn more, read our article.
The Government announced its decision to delay Phase 4 of the Roadmap to Reopening for a further three weeks in an effort to control rising case numbers.
Separately, Minister Heather Humphreys also confirms that employees on short time or lay off won’t have the right to claim redundancy before September 17th at the earliest.
The Government has signed off on its July stimulus package, with several supports announced to help businesses and employees when getting back to work.
Employment Wage Support Scheme
A new Employment Wage Support Scheme will succeed the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, and run until April 2021.
A flat rate of up to €203 per week per employee, including for seasonal staff and new employees, will be available to employers whose turnover falls by 30%. New firms operating in impacted sectors will also be eligible.
COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment Rates from September 17th, 2020
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment is continuing until April 2021 and includes three changes to payment rates. The first of these will take place on September 17th, 2020, the second on February 1st, 2021, and the third on April 1st, 2021.
Rate Changes from September 17th, 2020
From September 17th, 2020 until January 31st, 2021, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be paid at three rates. The rate you receive will depend on the amount you used to get paid:
- If you earned less than €200 per week, the rate of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be €203 per week.
- If you earned €200 - €300 per week or more, the rate of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be €250 per week.
- If you earned over €300 or less per week, you’ll receive €300 per week.
- The Qualified Adult rate for those on Jobseekers will now be reduced to its normal level of €134.70.
Rate Changes from February 1ST, 2021
From February 1st until the February 28th, 2021, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will paid at two rates. The rate you receive will depend on the amount you used to get paid:
- If you earned less than €200, the rate of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be €203 per week.
- If you earned €200 - €300 per week or more, the rate of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be €203 per week.
- If you earned over €300 or less per week, you’ll receive €250 per week.
Rate Changes from April 1st, 2021
The Government has published the list of ‘green’ countries. People who travel between Ireland and any countries on the green list are not required to restrict their movements for fourteen days when they return. As the Government advice remains to avoid all non-essential travel, there has been some criticism that there are mixed messages regarding the travel advice.
Now that the green list is published, we could see a corresponding increase in annual leave requests. Staff should be reminded of the terms of annual leave policies which typically work on a first-come, first-served basis.
As trading conditions remain uncertain for businesses that have reopened, restructuring is an option many business owners may consider. However, there are risks to be aware of.
With increasing community transmission, the Government has decided that the country will not fully reopen as scheduled on Monday, July 20th.
The Taoiseach outlined the following priority areas for the coming weeks:
- Customers in shops and all retail settings will be required to wear face coverings. Staff in retail operations will also be required to wear coverings unless there's a partition in place or a space of 2 metres can be maintained between employees and customers.
- Pubs, bars, hotel bars, nightclubs and casinos are to remain closed until August 10th. Pubs that serve food will remain open.
- Social visits to private homes should be limited to no more than ten people from no more than four different households.
- The Phase 3 restrictions of 50 people for indoor gatherings and 200 for outdoor gatherings also remains in place until August 10th.
In a Government announcement made earlier today, new parents are to receive an extra three weeks’ paid parent’s leave due to the impact of coronavirus on new families.
Commenting on the announcement, Children Minister Roderic O'Gorman said, "This is a measure to recognise to some extent the particular challenges that mothers and parents have faced during COVID-19".
The childcare sector has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic with some reports suggesting that only 60% of services intend to reopen in September. Widespread closures could have a big impact on both employers and working parents.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned that the full reopening of pubs could be delayed. All pubs are scheduled to reopen on Monday July 20th. The comments followed reports of non-compliance with social distancing rules as people gathered outside pubs last weekend.
Unused annual leave entitlements are an issue for all businesses who have reopened in each Phase of the Roadmap.
For advice on how to handle unused entitlements and requests in your business, read our article.
The High Court has made a ruling that could have a huge impact on the construction sector, finding that the law providing for sectoral employment orders is unconstitutional.
To find out more about this ruling, read our article.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced changes that will allow more businesses to reopen from Monday, June 29th, when Phase 3 begins.
For details on these changes and what to expect in Phase 3, read our blog.
The Labour Court has published its Annual Report for 2019, highlighting an increase in employment law cases.
The Labour Court has experienced an increase in appeals from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in recent years. Appeals from the WRC have increased from 399 in 2015 to 703 in 2019.
For further details regarding the report, read our blog.
Flexible work has been highlighted in the Programme for Government.
This new document commits to increasing remote, flexible, and hub working arrangements to promote better work-life balance, higher female labour market participation, a reduction in commuting, and greater regional balance. To find out more, read our blog.
As we approach Phase 3 of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening, employers need to consider the longer-term impact of maintaining remote work arrangements and formalising the position to guard against the risks that come with a remote workforce.
To help you get started, we've outlined three key risks to focus on in our blog.
Peninsula's Associate Director Moira Grassick spoke with Classic Hits over the weekend about how employers and employees can get back to work safely post-COVID-19.
Listen to her advice on this and much more below.
Our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey recently spoke to KCLR 96FM about the challenges businesses face when reopening, how employers should handle employee issues when returning to work, and much more. You can listen to his interview below, beginning at 46:00.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has announced a major funding package to facilitate the reopening of childcare facilities from June 28th.
The new funding model contains four main elements:
- A once-off reopening grant of €18M for centre-based providers opening on June 29th and late August.
- A once-off capital grant of €14.2M. All registered centre-based services reopening between June 29th and the beginning of September can avail of this grant.
- Continuation of the Revenue-operated Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) (€32.8M).
- All DCYA funding schemes, including universal subsidies and targeted subsidies for parents (NCS, CCS and TEC) will be available again for children attending Early Learning and Childcare services from June 29th.
The Government has today confirmed a number of changes that will directly impact reopening plans, including the surprise announcement that all retail outlets are entitled to reopen on Monday, June 8th. In summary, the Government has:
- Extended the part payment of salaries under the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme until August 31st. A loophole that excluded employees on maternity or adoptive leave has also been closed.
- Allowed all retail outlets to reopen on Monday, June 8th.
- Shopping centres can re-open from June 15th provided only shops open and measures are taken to ensure people do not congregate at benches, fountains, or food courts.
- Moved Phase 5 of the Roadmap to Reopening forward. There will now be only 4 Phases with the final phase ending on August 10th.
- Extended the payment of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment until August 10th. From June 29th, part-time workers will receive a €203 Pandemic Unemployment Payment if their earnings were less than €200 per week prior to the lockdown measures being introduced. Where workers had earned €200 or more from their employer prior to the lockdown, the €350 payment will continue to apply.
- Eased travel restrictions allowing people to travel 20km or within their own county (whichever is greater) from June 8th.
To find out how these changes affect your business, speak to a HR and health & safety expert today on 1890 252 923 or request a callback here.
The Government has agreed to extend the suspension of rules on redundancy claims by employees on lay off or short time until August 10th.
This means that employees will not be able to claim redundancy on foot of being on prolonged lay-off until at least August 11th.
This will not only ensure a cost-saving for employers in terms of redundancy pay, but it also means that employers will not be caught short in terms of collective redundancy obligations if multiple requests come in at short notice.
Peninsula, in conjunction with Chambers Ireland, has been lobbying the Government on behalf of companies throughout Ireland on this issue since March.
The Government has moved to close a loophole in the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme to ensure women who were on maternity leave to access the payment.
Revenue confirmed that affected employees will be able to backdate their applications to March 26th.
Revenue also advised that this change will require manual operation. It expects the relevant system updates to be operational from June 12th.
For advice on how these two announcements could affect your business, speak to one of our expert advisors today.
With each new phase of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening, Irish businesses get one step closer to returning to the workplace.
Preventative measures will need to be put in place when you return to work, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may need to be used. That includes face masks, an option we've covered in our blog.
The Government has issued a series of warnings to businesses planning to reopen ahead of schedule. Businesses have been advised that they should not reopen unless they're “allowed to do so” under the Roadmap for Reopening. Doing so would risk undermining progress being made to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Liz Canavan, a senior official for the Department of the Taoiseach, said there are concerns that businesses “which are not aligned with the roadmap” are reopening earlier than outlined in the Roadmap. She added, “We understand the temptation to do so for retailers and for customers. But we have to be really clear: even if you're applying the return to work safety protocol you cannot open unless you're specifically allowed to do so under the roadmap,”
As well as essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies, a number of retail outlets were allowed to reopen during Phase One of the Roadmap. Included were garden centres, hardware stores, mobile phone shops, IT and electrical shops, and car and bike mechanics.
Phase Two decision to come
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has today said that a Cabinet decision would be made regarding Phase Two of the Roadmap for Reopening on Friday, June 5th - three days before Ireland is due to move to the next stage.
He added that while some countries are reopening faster than expected, the Government intends to stick with the slow and steady approach, acknowledging that reopening can be accelerated but that call cannot be made now.
The Taoiseach also said that work had begun on preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 in September and October. He said hundreds of lives could be saved this winter and every winter by greater uptake of the flu vaccine.
For further information on these developments and advice on reopening your business, visit our Reopening Toolkit.
A recent survey into the lives of remote workers has brought some concerning issues around stress, anxiety and hours worked to the fore.
Among the many statistics highlighted, the survey revealed that employees are putting in as much as 38 extra hours of work per month during the lockdown.
To find out more about this and how you can help your remote workers with regards to health, read our blog.
Phase One of reopening Ireland's society and economy begins on May 18th. However, in a change of plans, homeware stores will not be allowed to reopen.
This change has raised concerns among employers that their business might not be allowed to reopen once their allocated Phase begins. For further information and answers to all of our reopening queries, visit our comprehensive Reopening Toolkit.
The Return to Work Safely Protocol outlines mandatory measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. These measures apply to all businesses and must be adhered to.
To get a comprehensive breakdown of the Protocol and how it affects your business, read our blog here.
The Government recently published its Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. This roadmap outlines plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions and reopen Ireland’s economy and society over the course of five three-week phases.
The first of these begins on Monday 18th May. To ensure you understand the Roadmap, we've broken down each phase in our blog.
In a move that will come as a relief to many employers who found themselves locked out of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, Revenue has made a change to the employee eligibility criteria. The change means employers who have made payroll submissions to Revenue prior to April 1st confirming that an employee was on payroll on February 29th will now be entitled to avail of the scheme. Any employers that meet the revised criteria will now be included.
Yesterday afternoon, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe announced amendments to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.
The State will now subsidise 85% of the wages of lower-income workers on a yearly salary of less than €24,400.
Employees with previous average net pay of between €412 and €500 per week (equivalent to €24,400-€31,000) will also be entitled to a maximum subsidy of €350 per week. This increases the subsidy for employees at the lower end of this band.
During a recent discussion with Guaranteed Irish, our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey talked about the impact COVID-19 has had on Ireland's business landscape.
Listen to the podcast below.
The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme is a financial support provided by the government to Irish businesses.
We’ve compiled a list of FAQs and provided the answers, which you can view here.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) has established the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme (WSCS). The scheme will provide additional financial supports to the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare sectors.
Put in place to assist childcare employers and employees, the WSCS will also help childcare facilities reopen promptly post COVID-19.
Our WSCS blog explains the support in greater detail.
On Friday, March 27th, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the government’s decision that everyone should stay at home until April 12th, 2020.
However, employers operating as an essential service can still request employees to come to work. Read more about this in our blog.
Many employers in the retail sector have rewarded their employees with a salary premium for their continued support during the COVID-19 crisis.
Learn more here.
The government has moved to support businesses and employers by introducing a temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.
The scheme aims to keep as many workers as possible in employment until the COVID-19 crisis is over. Find out more in our Wage Subsidy Scheme blog.
Our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey spoke to Radio Kerry about the challenges businesses face because of the coronavirus. You can listen to his interview below, beginning at 28:45.
Government ramps up response to COVID-19 crisis
The government has announced new measures that aim to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to provide much-needed support to workers and businesses affected by the crisis.
Significant new restrictions that will further reduce employment were announced while it was also confirmed that the initial review date of 29th March has now been extended until April 19th.
From midnight, March 24th, the government specifically requires all theatres, clubs, gyms/leisure centres, hairdressers, betting shops, marts, markets, casinos, bingo halls, libraries and other similar outlets to shut.
All hotels must limit occupancy to essential non-social and non-tourist reasons.
All non-essential retail outlets are to close to members of the public and all other retail outlets are to implement physical distancing.
For any other business, employees are required to work from home. Where this is not possible, employees must only attend their place of work where their attendance is absolutely essential.
The widening of the restrictions will of course lead to further job losses as it effectively leaves only employees who can work from home and essential frontline staff in the retail and healthcare sectors assured of continued employment.
Financial supports for workers and wage subsidies
Recognising the need to support workers during the crisis, the government announced substantial increases in social welfare benefits.
The COVID Unemployment Payment has risen to €350 a week.
Likewise, the COVID Illness Benefit for self-isolating employees has also increased from €305 to €350 per week and can be topped up by employers.
To avoid large scale redundancies, the government has also moved to encourage employers to keep staff on their payrolls.
Under the government’s wage subsidy scheme, the state will co-fund 70% of the cost of salaries up to a maximum of €410 per week - the equivalent of €38,000 a year in take-home pay. Additionally, the scheme will provide assistance of up to €350 per week for employee earnings between €38,000 and €76,000.
Employers will only be eligible if they have suffered a 25% decline in turnover and are unable to cover their outgoings.
Though state intervention was badly needed by the SME sector to survive this rapidly evolving crisis, whether the new measures will be enough to prevent widespread job losses remains to be seen.
Schools to remain closed beyond March 29th
Minister for Education Joe McHugh has confirmed that schools will not be opening immediately after March 29th. He added that there should be an announcement today or tomorrow regarding the extension of the school closures.
Sources indicate that the Government is planning to follow other European countries by providing substantial financial supports to employees who have been laid-off as a result of the coronavirus crisis. An announcement is expected later in the week.
The government is expected to announce a multi-billion euro income support plan to help maintain as many employment relationships as possible during the coronavirus crisis. This will likely mean a significant increase in the social welfare payments to staff who have been laid off.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have agreed to a temporary relaxation of resting time rules. These will apply to all operators in the haulage industry and to all drivers who are subject to the EU driver’s hours and tachograph rules.
To read how this will affect the haulage industry, click here.
Our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey spoke to 98FM about employee rights during the coronavirus. Listen to his interview below.
The Dáil has convened to pass emergency legislation to combat the COVID-19 crisis.
The Health Preservation and other Emergency Measures Bill contains two major changes.
The first set of measures confirm the income protection measures that are available to employees who are infected by COVID-19.
The financial measures include:
- An enhanced illness benefit of €305 per week for employees who need medical treatment.
- A fast access COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment specifically designed to get thousands of unemployed people into payment as quickly as possible.
- A refund scheme under which employers can continue to pay workers at the jobseeker’s rate of €203 per week with all such payments being fully refunded to employers through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
Although it’s not clear how the remaining emergency powers will impact employers, the new laws contain powers to shut down mass gatherings, order groups of people in certain areas to stay in their homes and detain people who refuse to self-isolate in accordance with medical advice.
For further information on government financial supports, click here.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that he expects no further “dramatic measures” in the fight against COVID-19 to be announced in the coming days. He added that anything which is shared online should be ignored and that anyone seeking coronavirus updates and advice should only trust government and HSE advice.
It is also being advised that employers do not seek sick certs from employees as GPs are receiving many calls from people just seeking certs despite not being sick.
The government has advised that all pubs close until March 29th. Businesses such as restaurants and cinemas can remain open but have been encouraged to implement social distancing measures.
The government has also established a temporary refund scheme for businesses who are forced to cease trading as a result of the coronavirus. This will be available to employers and the self-employed who have lost work. Employers are being asked to continue to pay employees at least €203 per week even if they have been forced to close due to the social distancing requirements. Employers will be entitled to reclaim the €203 per week per employee from the Department of Social Protection.
Minister for Health Simon Harris has said more advice is being given to people coming back from areas from where there have been significant coronavirus outbreaks.
Within Europe, he said, all people coming back from Spain and Italy are being asked to restrict their movements for the next two weeks, which includes not going to work, and to lessen their social interactions.
As the coronavirus situation intensifies, you may decide to let employees work remotely. To ensure you have the correct policies in place, click here.
The government has announced that schools, including all third-level institutions, are to close from 6pm on March 12th until March 29th.
Furthermore, gatherings of over 100 (indoor) and 500 (outdoor) have been cancelled.
If employees cannot come to work due to the school and childcare facilities closures, you should try to reach an agreement with them on how their absence will be treated. Although legally employees have no right to pay if they need time off to arrange childcare, it's important to facilitate employees during these confusing and worrying circumstances.
Some of the options employers can use to help working parents deal with the school closures are:
- Allow employees to work from home if possible.
- Allow a period of unpaid leave.
- Allow the employee to work the time back at a later date.
- Allow the employee to use annual leave.
- Offer parental leave to qualifying employees.
Employer advice on the coronavirus
Employers need to ensure that proper control, preventative and where necessary, isolation measures are in place to handle the coronavirus with regards to their workplace.
It’s important to remember that your employees will be worried about the virus. In addition to having a duty of care to protect employee health and safety, you also need to consider their wellbeing. Consider any wellbeing initiatives you have and remind employees of them, for example, an Employee Assistance Programme.
Give employees the facts
The risk of anyone who has not recently been to an affected area picking up the infection is very low, unless someone they are close to has the virus. Risk of becoming infected will differ depending on personal circumstances, but it’s still important to convey to employees the reality of the situation to keep concerns proportionate to the risk.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is regularly updating its travel advice and the current advice is ‘to avoid all non-essential overseas travel until March 29th.’ This includes Great Britain but not Northern Ireland. Consider alternatives to any planned travel e.g. postponing a trip, or carrying out meetings via Skype. If travel is deemed necessary, then you should effectively, but proportionately, manage the risk. Always know where your employees are and where they are going. Ensure they are given clear instructions on hygiene.
If employees report symptoms of the virus while they are travelling, you will have to support them. You should also consider making plans to enable any of your employees who are based overseas to return to Ireland.
Employees returning from affected areas
Employees returning from affected areas should contact their local Department of Public Health for advice on measures that may need to be taken for 14 days following their return to Ireland.
If employees have any symptoms of novel coronavirus, including cough, fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, on arrival or at any time in the 14 days following their return, they should self-isolate straight away and phone their GP or emergency department rather than turning up in person. Employees who have recently returned from an affected area will be prioritised by their local Department of Public Health.
Employees with concerns should call 1850 24 1850 to receive expert medical advice from public health officials.
The emergency numbers 112 and 999 should be reserved for medical emergencies only at all times.
Existing health conditions
When determining your response to the virus, pay particular attention to the needs of certain employees who may be vulnerable, e.g. those with existing respiratory conditions such as chronic lung disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as those who are pregnant or are older.
Suspending employees who may have been exposed to the virus
Where you have concerns about a non-symptomatic employee (particularly if it’s known or suspected that the employee has had contact with someone known to have the virus) then the best advice might be to play it safe with a brief period of suspension on precautionary grounds.
Where you choose to suspend returning employees just as a precaution, it will have to be on full pay unless the contract gives you a right to suspend without pay for this reason (which is unlikely).
Employees who have been advised to self-isolate
If an employee is instructed to stay away from work for 14 days, there is no legal requirement to pay them under these instructions unless they report to you as sick during that time in which case normal sickness absence and pay procedures should apply. However, you may choose to continue to pay employees, particularly if they were in an affected area on business.
The government is moving to pass emergency legislation to amend the qualifying criteria on sick pay in response to the coronavirus outbreak. This measure is designed to ensure that employees do not refuse to self-isolate on financial grounds.
Illness Benefit will rise from €203 per week to €305 per week and it will be available from the first day of the employee’s absence rather than after six days which is the status quo. Employees will not need to have made the minimum number of PRSI contributions, but will require medical certification to avail of the benefit.
If employees who fall into this category attempt to come to work, you should remind them of the medical instructions and tell them to go home for the stated period. Again, there would be no legal requirement to pay the employee because it’s not the employer advising the employee to stay off work, it’s necessary under official government advice though you may consider topping up the Illness Benefit.
A second option is to offer the employee the option of taking paid annual leave as this helps reduce the risk that the employee feels compelled to attend work which would put other employees at risk of catching the virus.
If organisations choose not to pay employees who have been advised to self-isolate, they must ensure that the approach is consistent and adheres to custom and practice. An inconsistent approach may lead to claims if one employee receives less favourable treatment than another.
Employees who refuse to come into work due to concerns
If an employee has returned from an affected area or is worried about catching the virus and so refuses to attend work, organisations should listen to the employee’s concerns and offer reassurance.
An employer's response to this will depend on the actual risk of catching the virus and will depend on the specific circumstances including whether anyone in the workforce has already been diagnosed or there is another real risk of exposure. Employers may decide to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave, or allow the employee to work from home where this is feasible. Responses should be proportionate to the specific situation.
Discrimination, bullying and harassment
Coronavirus is not a reason to treat employees differently because of their nationality. You should be alert to ‘banter’, and other instances of harassment, between employees about the virus which relates to someone’s nationality or ethnicity. Ensure that your zero-tolerance stance to harassment is maintained.
It’s critically important that all employees practice the recommended hygiene measures. The World Health Organisation’s standard infection control measures are:
Frequently cleaning hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash your hands.
Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough.
If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, phone your GP (do not visit the GP surgery) and tell your GP if you have been in China in the last 14 days.
Our Associate Director for Advisory Alan Hickey spoke to KLCR about how employers should best prepare for the coronavirus outbreak. Listen to the interview below.