How should employers handle the coronavirus outbreak?

Peninsula Team

May 29 2020

Complimentary advice

For immediate advice on how to protect your business during the coronavirus outbreak, call our expert advisors any time day or night on 1890 252 923 or request a callback here. You can also visit our reopening toolkit which contains the latest news and most up-to-date advice for employers. 

29/05/20

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.

Maternity Leave

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. 

26/05/20

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.  

21/05/20

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.

20/05/20

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

15/05/20

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

12/05/20

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.

06/05/20

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.

27/04/20

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.  

16/04/20

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.

10/04/20

During a recent discussion with Guaranteed Irish, our Associate Director of Advisory Alan Hickey talked about the impact COVID-19 has had on Ireland's business landscape.  

Listen to the podcast below. 

09/04/20

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.

06/04/20

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. 

01/04/20

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

31/03/20

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.

28/03/20

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.

27/03/20

Our Associate Director of 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.

24/03/20

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.

Increased restrictions          

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.

23/03/20

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.

20/03/20

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.

19/03/20

Radio interview

Our Associate Director of Advisory Alan Hickey spoke to 98FM about employee rights during the coronavirus. Listen to his interview below.

Emergency legislation

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

16/03/20

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.

15/03/20

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.

13/03/20

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.

12/03/20

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.

03/02/20

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.

Wellbeing

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.

Business travel

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. 

Hygiene measures

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.

2/3/20

Radio interview

Our Associate Director of Advisory Alan Hickey spoke to KLCR about how employers should best prepare for the coronavirus outbreak. Listen to the interview below. 

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