Expert advice to Irish employers during coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic

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Advise for Irish employers during the coronavirus lockdown

Advise for Irish employers during the coronavirus lockdown

Coronavirus schools shutdown: what should employers do?  -Advice by Alan Hickey, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced that schools, colleges, childcare facilities and other public facilities will close in the Republic of Ireland from 6 pm on the 12th March until the 29th March at the earliest. The government has also announced a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings  of more than 500 people.

The Health Service Executive likewise updated their advice by encouraging members of the public to take social distancing measures including limiting social interactions, avoiding indoor, crowded spaces, shaking hands and all forms of close personal contact.

These measures represent a significant escalation in government intervention to contain the coronavirus outbreak and look certain to disrupt employers. The principal challenge the shutdown poses for employers is increased short notice absence from work. With schools and childcare facilities closing, many employees will need to stay home to care for their children and make alternative caring arrangements. 

This could result in a large number of employees needing time off at once, something that may be difficult for businesses to manage. Assessing how much time should reasonably be allowed will vary from case to case, and it will be essential to maintain contact with staff during any periods of leave during the shutdown. 

What should employers do? 

Both employers and employees should first check their employment contracts to see if the shutdown triggers any clauses or policies. Certain employers may have included business continuity or contingency policies that may prove useful in the current circumstances.  

Depending on the nature of the business carried out by the employer, the following options are available to handle short notice requests for time off for childcare reasons:

·         Remote working – where possible, allowing employees to work from home for some time may allow them to manage both their domestic and work responsibilities during the shutdown.

·         Time in lieu – employers could agree that the employee uses banked time off in lieu. Lieu time is unlikely to cover an extended absence but may allow the employee enough time to arrange alternative childcare. 

·         Annual leave – the employee could use their annual leave entitlement for a short period of absence to allow them to make the necessary childcare arrangements. 

·         Contractual leave – employees may have leave entitlements under their employment contract that may be appropriate in these circumstances. If it is possible to agree a period of paid leave that is not annual leave, employees should avail of this option. 

·         Unpaid leave – not all businesses will be in a position to provide a period of paid leave, and it may only be possible to agree a period of unpaid leave to cover the shutdown. 

·         Parental leave – if the employee’s children are below the age of 12, you could allow the employee to take a period of parental leave to cover absences caused by the school shutdown. Parental leave is unpaid, but the employee’s role enjoys protected status during a period of parental leave under the relevant legislation.

·         Combination - a mixture of the above statutory and contractual leaves could be used to cover an extended absence.

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