COVID 19 – Update for Employers

In this constantly evolving landscape employers are being faced with daily changes and queries on how best to deal with the COVID 19 outbreak and the impact on their business and employees. The Irish government announced a series of measures yesterday designed at combatting the spread of COVID 19, these include;

  • Closure of all schools, colleges and childcare facilities;
  • Workers should be encouraged to work remotely where possible;
  • Mass gatherings should be cancelled where they involve 100 people indoors or 500 people outdoors;
  • Social distancing measures should be implemented, including staggering start times and break times where possible.

We have set out below the most frequently asked questions in light of the changes introduced yesterday.

Do I have to pay my employees if they need to stay home to mind their children?

There is no obligation on an employer to pay an employee if they need to stay at home to mind children due to school and childcare closures. However as with all approaches to this current situation, this is a unique situation and an employer should seek to adopt a practical and reasonable approach where possible. Options to consider are;

  • Working from home arrangements;
  • Altering their working hours so that they can share childcare duties;
  • Consider allowing employees to take annual leave;
  • Encourage employees to discuss with you as their employer how they may be able to continue working.

Do I have to close my workplace?

There is no obligation on businesses to close however they should seek to implement the measures listed above of encouraging where possible people to work from home and social distancing.

If the business needs to close or reduce hours what should an employer do?

If the measures designed to limit the spread of the illness has a direct impact on the business to the extent that there is no work employers may need to consider lay off or short time. The advantage for an employee, if they are placed on lay off or short time, is that there are benefit payments that they can claim in the form of jobseeker benefit or short time work support.

Lay off and short time ought to be provided for in the contract of employment however if not specified an employer should seek to agree the lay off or short time with the employee. An employer should give an employee as much notice as possible by serving an RP9 form. As with all areas of the employment relationship good communication is key.

Are employees entitled to Sick Pay or Illness Benefit?

As set out in our first bulletin, an employee has no automatic entitlement to sick pay. Sick pay will be governed by the contract of employment or custom and practice. The government is introducing new legislation to increase the numbers who can benefit from State illness benefit. For those suffering from COVID 19 they have reduced the 6-day waiting period for claiming illness benefit so that it may be claimed on day 1 and they are increasing the benefit from €203 to €305 for a maximum of 2 weeks. This payment is also available to those who are in medically required isolation.

For more information please get in touch with Emma Richmond or your usual Whitney Moore contact.