Returning to Work After Covid-19 Pandemic

Returning to Work After Covid-19 Pandemic

Paying Employees 

A lot of employers are dependent on the wage subsidy scheme to be able to pay their employees while they were unable to work due to Covid-19 closures. Even when places of employment re-open, employers can still temporarily avail of this scheme to pay their staff (both full time and part time) until turnover improves. However, if the employee was not on the payroll before the end of February, they are not eligible for the wage subsidy scheme.

Employees Refusing Work

If an employee is in receipt of the Covid-19 Pandemic Payment while their place of employment is closed, they receive €350 a week. When the opportunity is available to go back to work, they may not want to (especially if their wages equate to less than €350 each week). If it is a case that an employee is refusing to go back to work (even though it is safe to do so) they are no longer eligible for the covid-19 payment and normal procedures regarding absence should be followed.

Employees with Underlying Medical Conditions

Employees who have underlying medical conditions are more vulnerable to this virus. Therefore, employers should do everything they can to facilitate them (working from home if possible).

However, if it is not possible for the employee to work without putting themselves at risk, they need to get a cert from their GP and it would be treated as any other long-term absence due to illness.

Employees with Children

While it is an option for a lot of people to now return to work, childcare can be an issue for a lot of people as creches and childcare facilities will remain closed until September. In this case, the employer may try to facilitate the employee (flexible hours, work from home etc.). However, this is not always viable and other options may need to be considered.

An employee can opt to apply for parental leave, which is a statutory entitlement, but unpaid.

Employer Liability 

Is the employer liable if government guidelines are not followed in the workplace and a member of staff contract the virus in the work place? 

There are two key pieces of legislation to consider. A breach of either of these Acts could give rise to civil liability for an employer.  The first is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. It imposes a general duty on employers to ensure “so far as is reasonably practicable” that the safety, health and welfare of their employees is safe-guarded. The Health Act 1947 (Extended 2007) is another key piece of legislation in the context of the current health crisis. This Act contains the legal force behind our current restriction regulations. Section 43 of the 1947 Health Act is one of its lesser known provisions, and means that a person can initiate civil proceedings. 

If your employees cannot work from home and they must still come to work it is important to take, and document, all the measures outlined in the national protocols document to ensure that you are providing a safe place to work.

Letting Staff Go

This will become a redundancy situation. Fair procedure and notice periods must be applied and redundancy payments will be due to those with over two years’ service.

Statutory notice periods are:

Duration of employment Minimum notice 

  • 13 weeks to 2 years – 1 week 
  • 2 years to 5 years2 weeks 
  • 5 years to 10 years4 weeks
  • 10 years to 15 years  – 6 weeks 
  • 15 years – + 8 weeks

Staff Returning after Maternity Leave

Any change to core terms and conditions must be agreed with the staff member.   Coming back from maternity leave, it is important to be sure that such a move could not be construed as discriminatory, so ensure that you have evidence that this was a decision based on role requirements and not on the fact that the employee has not been in the workplace for a period of time.

Moving Full-time staff to Part-time hours

Must be done with mutual consent – you cannot change contracted hours without consent, unless there is a provision in your contracts for short time, and the move meets the definition of short time. 

If the situation is not a short time situation you must get signed agreement from your employees in advance of implementing.

Temporary Workers on The Wage Subsidy Scheme no longer needed

It is important to note that a term of the TWSS is that the employer intends to keep employees on the payroll for the duration of the scheme, and this action may result in penalties being applied by revenue. 

The type of contract in place will determine how you go about terminating the contracts, however it is important to note that if it is due to the roles no longer being required before the end date specified in the contracts it becomes a redundancy situation regardless of the fixed term nature of their contracts, Fair procedure must be followed. 

To cease an employee from the revenue scheme, return the employees to their correct PRSI class and process payroll as normal.

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