Paying staff a premium during the coronavirus crisis

Patrick Whelan

March 31 2020

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Various employers in the retail sector have rewarded staff with a salary premium for their continued support during the COVID-19 crisis.

Employers who continue trading during the crisis, particularly those that have frontline staff putting themselves at risk of infection, are likely to find it difficult to ignore employee demands for a pay rise.

But are employers required to pay salary premiums to essential service employees?

Certain employees like supermarket staff are considered essential workers and are allowed to continue attending their place of work in spite of the many restrictions that are in place.

As employers operating in an essential service industry will continue to trade and remain profitable during the crisis, trade unions have been quick to seek to ensure that their members receive recognition for their efforts in trying circumstances.

While there is no legal obligation to pay employees more than their contractual entitlements during the COVID-19 crisis, trade unions are likely to continue to call on for-profit employers to recognise the work of frontline staff with pay increases.

What about topping up employee salaries that are subsidised by the state?

Under the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, the state will pay 70% of an employee’s wages for twelve weeks. Depending on the level of salary your employees earn, your business may be entitled to avail of the scheme.  

It is not a condition of the wage subsidy scheme that employers top up the remaining 30% of employees’ pay but the government is encouraging any employers who are availing of this scheme to top up salaries to ensure employees continue to receive their usual salary.

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