This information was provided by Lynda Quinn of LFQ Consulting. Eppione work closely with Lynda and her team.
The impact from the Coronavirus is being felt across the globe, with it recently being declared a pandemic by the WHO. Irish authorities are continuing to monitoring the situation as it develops and are preparing business to respond to various potential scenarios. It is a very dynamic and fluid situation and as such by sharing accurate information around COVID-19 and the impact it will have on employers, we hope to encourage a calm and rational approach from everyone.
What action can employers take right now?
- The situation is rapidly evolving so employers should continue to keep up to date with all media updates and any guidance issued by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Travel advice issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should also be reviewed for updates on affected locations.
- The DFA have advised using their TravelWise app available on Android and Apple Stores as the most effective way to access up to date travel advice
- Business continuity plans should be revised to incorporate contingencies related to the rapidly unfolding outbreak.
- Review the accuracy of employee details – are contact details (e.g. next of kin), contracts, visa etc up to date
- Employers should also communicate with their employees on the importance of engaging in proper hygiene and sanitation practices
- Employers should also ensure there is adequate hand sanitising facilities are available and that proper cleaning procedures are implemented for all frequently touched surfaces
How should I handle an employee intending on travelling to an affected area?
All non-essential travel by employees to an affected area should be postponed. Employers should follow the up-to-date travel information from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Employers should also require employees who become ill while travelling to notify their relevant supervisor of their condition and promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
How should I handle an employee who has recently returned from an affected area?
If an employee has recently been to a Coronavirus “hot spot”, it may be worthwhile requiring him or her stay at home for an initial incubation period, for example a period of up to 14 days is currently recommended.
Employers should assess whether employees are capable of working remotely. Bespoke arrangements may need to put in place by employers who cannot implement wholesale working from home arrangements.
Can an employer insist that an employee works from home?
Employers have a statutory obligation under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to ensure that employees are provided with a safe working environment. In discharging this duty, it may become necessary for employers to compel all, or a portion, of their workforce to work from home. So long as the employee is continuing to fulfill his employment duties his/her remuneration entitlements will be unaffected.
Employers should ensure the implementations of any restrictions can be seen as reasonable and proportionate. It would be considered a reasonable response by an employer to restrict the movements of employees who have only recently returned from an affected area, however blanket restrictions against a group of employees based on their race would likely be regarded as discriminatory in nature and expose the business to potential claims.
What if an employee cannot work from home or is obliged to self isolate?
The WRC Coronavirus Guidance provides that “where not covered under a contract of employment or an agreed attendance policy, there is no statutory entitlement for an employee to be paid by their employer in the event that they are absent from work. This may also be the position where an employee is unable to attend work as a result of precautionary measures taken in line with HSE or HPSC advices.”
Where employers decide not to pay their employees for any absences required by the Guidelines (such will usually arise where employees cannot work remotely), clear employee communication should be provided and the WRC Coronavirus Guidance should be cited. Employee communication and consultation is key to mitigating the company’s exposure to employee claims. The WRC Coronavirus Guidance does not eliminate the risk of employees bringing legal claims and the most obvious claim would be for the unlawful deduction of wages under the Payment of Wages Act (POWA). The WRC Coronavirus Guidance would prove to be a very useful authority in defending any claim but clear employee communication and consultation would also be required in any defence.
There is also an employee relations risk in deciding not to pay employees who cannot attend for work due to the self-isolating requirements set out in the Guidelines. Employee disgruntlement and discontentment will likely arise where employees are required to remain in isolation, as per the very prescriptive Guidelines, and are being financially penalised as a result.
Where an employee is experiencing Coronavirus symptoms and cannot attend for work due to their illness, the company Sickness Absence Policy should be adhered to and company sick pay scheme should be applied in the normal course.
Can employees receive benefit for social welfare if they have to self isolate?
The Department of Employment affairs and social protection are introducing measures to provide income support to people affected by COVID-19.
3 major changes have been announced:
- the current 6-day waiting period for Illness Benefit will not apply to anyone who has COVID-19 (Coronavirus) or is in medically-required self-isolation
- the personal rate of Illness Benefit will increase from €203 per week to €305 per week for a maximum of 2 weeks medically-required self-isolation or for the full duration of absence from work following a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
- the normal social insurance requirements for illness benefit will be changed or the means test for Supplementary Welfare Allowance will be removed
You can access public health advice about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) at https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/?referrer=/coronavirus/
What if an employee’s sick pay entitlements have expired?
If an employee has run out of sick pay entitlements and is sick, the employee’s contract of employment and the employer’s handbook/policies should be reviewed to assess whether additional sick pay or special paid leave can be made. Employers should bear in mind that where sick pay is discretionary, such discretion should be exercised in a fair manner.
Are there privacy concerns that employers should be aware of?
An employee’s privacy rights should be carefully assessed by an employer when considering whether or not to notify other employees about ill co-workers. In exceptional cases disclosure may be permitted if there is a real risk of an employee becoming infected. The coronavirus was recently officially designated a “notifiable disease” by the Minister for Health placing an obligation on doctors to immediately notify the HSE when a case of Covid-19 is diagnosed. In these unique circumstances, it would be reasonable for an employer to override the privacy concerns of an affected employee to ensure that the health and safety of the wider workforce is maintained.
How we can help with remote working
Eppione’s HR platform allows quick and easy changes to be made to our absence management tool so you can track specific absences. You can change this using your company administrator rights and it doesn’t cost you to do so.
You can see reports on time off at the touch of a button and filter to types of time off easily.
The integrated timesheet option allows some level of control over employees as they work remotely, adding projects and time worked per individual using the mobile application.