The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented disruption to workplaces across Ireland. With its expert teams across HR, Employer Relations and Knowledge Centre, Ibec is here to offer our members up-to-date guidance and support.
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Business Continuity Planning / FAQs
It is essential to reassure employees by regularly updating staff on the actions the company is taking to reduce risks of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. Outline any precautionary measures you have introduced such as curtailing business travel and events and non-essential meetings. Reaffirm the arrangements in place regarding self-declaration for employees and visitors to the business in relation to travel to affected areas or contact with someone who is unwell.
Employees with recent travel history to affected countries or regions may be required to self-isolate for 14 days and company visitors may be asked not to progress with their visit.
Outline any additional precautionary measures the organisation is taking such as more frequent cleaning of areas with high human contact, such as
• counters where customers are served and rooms where visitors are hosted
• general public access areas such as lifts, toilets and bin areas
Make sure there are appropriate, accessible facilities to wash hands with hot water and soap or hand sanitiser. Consider appropriate hygiene measures such as providing tissues for staff and in areas which are frequently used by visitors.
Provide guidance for staff on how to deal with customers who appear to be unwell or have flu like symptoms.
Detail any arrangements the company has in place to minimise workplace transmission including any measures to stagger employees’ start and finish times as well as employee break times.
Explain any interim arrangements the company has in place to with regard to:
• flexible hours
• staggering start times and break times
• teleworking arrangements
• using email and teleconferencing
• reducing face-to-face meetings and gatherings
Remind employees of the precautionary measures that they themselves can take in the workplace including observing good personal hygiene, the requirement to wash hands frequently and for an adequate duration with soap and avoiding contact with people who are unwell. Advise them to consult a doctor promptly if unwell with fever or respiratory symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath.
Remind employees that colleagues who are unwell are required to stay away from the workplace and communicate their absence by phone.
It is important that your managers understand the relevant processes. Ensure your managers have been briefed on the symptoms of COVID-19 and are clear on any relevant process should an employee become unwell at work or in the event that an employee contacts the company to say they have contracted the virus.
Ensure line managers regularly engage with all staff and especially those working remotely.
Your managers should be prepared to answer the following questions:-
What happens if an employee needs to self-isolate?
If medical/HSE advice is that the employee should self-isolate the employer might in the first instance establish whether the employee can work from home if possible and appropriate to do so (i.e. if they are otherwise fit for work). For further information see Ibec Remote Working COVID-19.
What happens if an employee is medically required to self-isolate and is not in a position to work from home?
See below newly introduced social welfare arrangements for employees who are medically required to self-isolate or who contract COVID-19.
On week commencing Monday 9th March Government introduced enhanced arrangements to support employed/self-employed people affected by COVID-19 effective from that date.
Social welfare - key changes
• Removal of 6 day waiting period for illness benefit will apply both to people with COVID -19 or those medically required to self-isolate.
• Normal minimum social insurance contributions will be waived.
• The personal rate of illness benefit for employees and the self-employed who are medically required to self-isolate or who are ill with COVID-19 will increase to €305.
• The State €305 benefit payment for those medically certified to self-isolate will be for a maximum of 2 weeks.
• The State €305 benefit payment for those who contract COVID-19 will be for the full duration of absence subject to certification.
• Rates are effective from 9th March, any arrears will be backdated to this date as legislation/application processes are not expected to be completed until the end of March. The mechanism to enact this legislation is expected to be passed on or after 19th March 2020.
• To avail of the benefit the person must be confined to home or a medical facility.
• Applications are currently by post. Online facility will be available by end of March.
• Those in financial distress as a result of only receiving this illness benefit, can apply for additional emergency income support, this supplementary allowance is means tested. This can be done by phone or in person when no longer confined to home.
Government are encouraging employers to pay (where possible) the difference between the new illness benefit of €305 per week and the relevant normal pay rate to employees who are unable to work due to illness from the virus or who are medically advised to self-isolate.
In this instance, an employee may be in a position to work from home. Alternatively, an employer might also explore with the employee whether a change in work pattern might suit. For example, could the employee work a split shift or temporarily adjust the start and finish times or days of work in order to arrange alternative childcare responsibilities with a partner or other family member.
If the above options are not feasible the employer may need to look at other options such as agreeing a period of parental leave with the employee, allowing the employee to take annual leave, draw down banked TOIL or paying the employee on the basis that they will work back the hours. Again, reasonableness in all the circumstances will be the standard expected of an employer. It is advisable for employers and line managers to discuss options with employees to see what may be feasible.
In this instance, the employee may qualify for ‘force majeure’ leave under the Parental Leave Acts 1998 to 2019. Force majeure leave is very narrowly defined as in Section 13 of the Parental Leave Act 1998. This section of the Act entitles an employee to paid time off, where for urgent family reasons, owing to the injury or illness of an immediate family member, the immediate presence of an employee at the place where the person is, is indispensable. It therefore may have limited application in this case. This leave is normally limited to a maximum of 3 days in a
12 month period or a total of 5 days in a 36 month period. Consecutive days are the exception rather than the rule because ‘urgent’ circumstances have been traditionally been interpreted as unforeseen circumstances.
Government have asked employers to consider, whether, in the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19, they might facilitate people by allowing them to take the full 5 days entitlement as one block if required.
Further information here.
If an employee considers themselves to be at risk, they should seek medical advice as to what steps should be taken. The employer should also conduct a risk assessment if it considered that the employee is in a high-risk category by reference to the HSE guidelines.
Employers are required to provide a safe workplace, which may include the processing of health and safety data in order to ensure that safety. Articles 6(1)( c), Articles 9(2)(b) and (g) along with section 51 of the Data Protection Act, 2018 (which permits the processing of special category data for reasons of substantial public interest) are likely the most appropriate legal bases for processing this data.
It is recommended to follow the advice of the relevant authorities. See official public health information below:
World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Health Surveillance Protection Centre: https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/
Health Services Executive: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/coronavirus.html
Department of Health: https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-health/
Department of Foreign Affairs: https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/
Government of Ireland: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ea1c30-updated-measures-in-response-to-covid-19-coronavirus/