Navigating the uncertainty of Covid-19 in the workplace

Employers need to proactively work with and support employees in this time of economic and social stress.

AS COVID-19 CONTINUES to impact societies and individuals globally, businesses and organisations are facing unprecedented challenges. 

There is a careful balance for employers to strike between ensuring employees and their loved ones are protected while also keeping business going, with rapid decision-making required to keep pace with an ever-evolving situation. 

While many businesses are reacting to this evolving crisis, based on our experience at Mazars, we believe there are several key considerations for employers when protecting their people and their businesses. 

How can employers protect employees? 

Employers must, under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts, ensure the health and safety of their employees and provide a safe place to work. 

COVID-19 delivers a unique threat to safety, and organisations need to put adequate measures and controls in place to eliminate risks and hazards. We have seen many businesses provide for remote working and where possible, this should be facilitated. 

Employers need to be watchful of the capacity of their IT infrastructure and if asking employees to work remotely, might consider reimbursement should an employee need to purchase home working equipment. 

It is essential employers stay in close contact with employees to support them and the broader business. Daily ‘team meetings’ via conference call, Skype or Teams should be undertaken to discuss ongoing work and provide employees with information on assistance programmes or other well-being resources if required.

One key consideration for employers will be when they should instruct staff to return to the office and in what volume as COVID-19 may still directly impact our day-to-day lives in the coming months. 

Where employees are required on-site, employers should provide all required warning and distancing signage, provide sanitisers, consider staggering work hours and increase cleaning rosters on all office spaces.

Employers need to proactively work with and support employees during this prolonged period of uncertainty, and a degree of flexibility and accommodation will be required. 

A watchful eye needs to be kept over hours worked by employees to ensure compliance with the Organisation of Working Time Act, particularly those working from home. 

Line managers should stay in contact with their employees daily to ensure that work is allocated fairly, and deadlines reached. 

Employers should also inform themselves of the different statutory/non-statutory leaves — parental leave, parents leave, Carer’s leave, force majeure leave and unpaid leave — and adopt a consistent approach when responding to employee requests. 

Flexible working policies should also be reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose readily available to all. 

Extraordinary measures

Many employers will need to introduce measures to protect their workforce and business, including lay off and short-time working arrangements. 

Under the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967-2014, a lay-off situation arises where an employer is unable to provide work for an employee but believes this to be a temporary situation. It must give notification of the lay-off, ideally in writing, before it commences. 

The Government has reacted quickly to the crisis by introducing various schemes to assist employers at this time. 

This week, enhanced provisions were announced, including a temporary wage subsidy of 70% of take-home pay up to a maximum weekly tax-free amount of €410 per week to help affected companies keep paying their employees. This is the equivalent of €500 per week before tax.

Workers who have lost their jobs due to the crisis will also receive an enhanced emergency Pandemic Unemployment Benefit of €350 per week (an increase from €203). The COVID-19 Illness Benefit will also be increased to €350 per week. 

The self-employed will be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Benefit of €350 directly from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (rather than the Revenue scheme)

The new provisions have also enhanced protections for people facing difficulties with their mortgages, rent or utility bills.

The government is taking these extraordinary measures to help individuals and businesses during this period of unprecedented economic and social stress.

Contact Sonya Boyce , HR Consulting Director.

This article first appeared in fora.ie  March 2020.

HR Consulting Partners