Covid-19 - Employer Guidance

Guidance for Employers - What Employers need to know:

Following the increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Ireland, there are pressing questions arising for employers as to how to deal with their duty of care, control measures, absence and pay entitlements.

1. In the first instance, the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 places a general duty of care on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of their employees. Duties include provision of facilities, arrangements, information & instruction for welfare of employees. To this end, employers should consult the HSE and HSPC and WHO websites where containment guidelines and preventative measures are outlined and particularly for those workers dealing with the public. https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/employersguidance/

2. Employees also have obligations under the Safety Act to ensure that they do not pose a threat to the safety of others in their workplace and are advised to follow advice from the HSE and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) to protect their health. Advice is being updated regularly and can be found at: https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/

3. Pay arrangements between employers & employees during periods of illness related absences are dependant on the terms and conditions of their contract of employment, subject to the obligations set down in law. It should be noted:
• There is no statutory entitlement for an employee to be paid by their employer while on illness related absence, where not covered under a contract of employment or agreed attendance policy. This may also be the position where the employee is unable to attend work as a result of precautionary measures as per HSE & HSPC Advices.
• However if an employee presents with symptoms and you as employer requests the employee to stay at home, then they should be paid ; if an employee presents with symptoms and is not sent home by the employer, there is a potential risk of other employee’s falling ill.

4. Statutory Sick Pay from the Dept of Social Protection will be payable (legislation to be passed Thursday 12/03) to those who are certified ill with Covid 19 from day 1 (normally day 6) and the payment increased to €305 per week; this payment is claimed through the Department of Social Welfare; There will be no conditions re PRSI contributions and it will be available to self -employed; normal rules will apply if there is a company sick pay scheme in place;

5. Where absence is necessary due to illness or HSE & HSPC advices, employers & employees should engage proactively & work to be as flexible as possible by exploring options:
- Working from home or other remote working arrangements,
- Agreeing to work back the hours/days lost,
- Alternative opening days on a day where the business would normally close,
- Taking of annual leave to avoid loss of earnings;

6. Force Majeure Leave is applicable for ‘urgent family reasons owing to injury or illness’ and where 'the immediate presence …of the employee…is indispensable'. Therefore Force Majeure may only be applied where an immediate family member falls ill with the virus and they are solely required to care for the person. Force majeure amounts to 3 days paid leave in a 12 months period where approved.

7. Lay-off: Where the business is negatively impacted by the spread of the virus and the ability to provide work is reduced, an employer may put employees on a period of ‘lay-off’ which is unpaid although employees may be entitled to social welfare payments in this situation.

It is important for employers to monitor the everchanging situation closely as the duty of care prevails. There is an onus on employers to have a plan in place if staff report symptoms of the virus. If not entitled to sick leave, some employees cannot afford to self-isolate for two weeks if recommended by the HSE. Larger companies should attempt to ensure where possible that employees are not compromised in this way although employees need to be mindful of the considerable pressure this places on smaller businesses.

For more details relating to the coronavirus, please follow the below link to the HSE:
https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/coronavirus.html