COVID-19 - Latest employment law developmentsFriday, 13 March 2020
On 6 March 2020, we issued an update on key issues for public and private organisations related to COVID-19. Since 6 March, the COVID-19 situation has developed significantly. The World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak a pandemic. The US Government has announced travel restrictions between the USA and Europe. Extraordinary public health measures have been implemented in Italy, and other EU countries. While the majority of businesses in Ireland have attempted to operate as normal, with protective measures in place to ensure the health and safety of employees, the Irish Government announced on Thursday, 12 March that schools, colleges and childcare facilities will close and set out restrictions on public gatherings. The restrictions will stay in place until 29 March 2020, and it is unclear what will happen after that date. In this context, COVID-19 is causing unprecedented concerns for employees, employers, and the general public.
There are a number of key measures that all employers should consider, if not already in place:
1. Business continuity planning
Given the level of risk, it is advisable that employers assign the task of reviewing the latest Government and public health guidance to a working group of senior employees. That group can then input into plans related to employment processes, communication of information, business continuity plans (assuming worse-case scenario on spread of virus) and other appropriate matters. In this regard, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has published a business continuity planning checklist, which is available here.
2. Communication of information
An employer’s legal duties include an obligation to provide relevant information and instruction to employees. Communications to employees in respect of COVID-19 should be given in a form, manner and, as appropriate, language that is reasonably likely to be understood by employees. Communications should address guidance from Government and public health bodies on Covid-19, as updated. For example, information is available on the following websites:
- Health Protection Surveillance Centre
- For employers with international offices, regard may also be had to the daily risk assessment of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
The latest Government announcements (including health updates on COVID-19) are also available here.
3. Protective measures
In addition to communicating information, employers may consider other measures to protect the health and safety of employees at this time, for example:
- increased supply of sanitation wipes/ hand sanitiser at workstations;
- increased frequency of workplace cleaning;
- displaying public health notices;
- placing handwashing guidance in communal / toilet areas;
- reduction in face to face contact with customers/suppliers (if possible);
- social distancing in the workplace (so far as is feasible);
- limiting business travel to essential trips only; and
- ask employees to inform HR if they are at risk e.g. if they travel to, or from, an affected area; or have close contact with someone who has the virus;
- ask employees if they have individual concerns to speak to HR. For example, if an employee has an underlying medical condition, which puts them at particular risk, they may wish to discuss this with HR in confidence.
4. Remote working
The Government has advised that employees should work remotely, where possible, and businesses should take a sensible approach in this regard. In general, remote working should be introduced (if possible) in line with any policy in place in the employment, and in consultation with employees. Employers should ensure the supply of equipment to enable employees to carry out their duties remotely. The arrangements for the management and supervision of employees working remotely should be considered, along with issues such as the protection of confidential information, and any special insurance arrangements required. The health and safety and data protection implications of the arrangements should be considered. The Health and Safety Authority and the Data Protection Commission have both published guidance that will assist employers and employees in relation to working from home as part of the national response to COVID-19. Click here to read our separate update on this guidance.
The Government has introduced measures to provide income support to people affected by COVID-19, including allowing immediate access to Illness Benefit, increasing the rate of such benefit, removing certain requirements in respect of such benefit and allowing benefit to people who are required to self-isolate in accordance with HSE guidelines. A Government information note on the supports is available here.
Employers and employees have a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, safety, health and welfare at work, but also need to bear in mind that this is a public health emergency. We all have a collective responsibility to navigate our way through this emergency in a manner that, as much as possible, protects lives, as well as livelihoods.
Please contact your usual ByrneWallace Employment Law contact if you have any queries arising from this bulletin.
Please note that the content of this bulletin does not amount to legal advice. Legal advice should be sought in respect of specific queries. The COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly.
This update is provided on the basis of information available from State sources at 12 March 2020.