For Employers – How to respond during the COVID-19 pandemic

As much as possible during this unprecedented time, employers need to be responsive to the many changes that have been introduced to help keep businesses going. In terms of Human Resources, it is ‘business as usual’ with emergency procedures such as the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme introduced to help keep as many employees on the payroll as possible. Employees in receipt of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme can work full-time hours.

If your employees are working remotely, it is important that employers keep in touch with their employees as much as possible. Remember that this is a difficult and stressful time for many of your employees so try to maintain relationships in a positive way as the organisation will need them when usual business resumes.

The following are some issues which may arise for employers during the COVID-19 period:-

  1. PAY REDUCTIONS – If you want to retain your employees on the payroll, employers can reduce pay by a certain percentage however it must apply across the board so that it is not seen as unfair treatment. Employers can also place employees on a shorter working week.
  2. LAY OFFS – If the employer has no other choice but to lay off staff, there needs to be a provision in the employee’s contract of employment to allow for temporary lay-off. Otherwise, the employer can look to negotiate with each employee to come to a suitable arrangement which then needs to be put in writing.
  3. THE REDUNDANCY PROCESS – New provisions have been put in place where an employee cannot ask for a redundancy during this time. Employers can still instigate redundancy during this time. The full process of redundancy including giving the employee other options should be adhered to. Please see our article on the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2020 for further details.
  4. EMERGENCY STAFF – it is vital that employers comply with all of the HSE guidelines regarding the wearing of PPE, hand sanitiser use, disposable glove use etc. by their employees. It is important to be reasonable when asking an employee to come to their place of work. The employee may have personal health concerns, childcare obligations or they may be a carer for a family member. If an employee is refusing to come to work and all of the HSE guidelines are being followed by the employer, it is advisable to firstly talk to the employee and find out the reason that they will not come to work. It is possible to implement a disciplinary process for an employee that refuses to come to work however employers should use their discretion and be seen to be acting reasonably in the circumstances.
  5. CURRENT INVESTIGATIONS & DISCIPLINARY ISSUES – the usual procedures continue to apply during this period. The employee continues to have the right to be represented and the process can be continued via Zoom or some other suitable video conference application provided the employee consents.  If consent is not forthcoming the process can be suspended until things return to normal and the employee is back in the workplace.
  6. HOLIDAYS – holidays still accrue for employees in receipt of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and employees are entitled to paid holidays.
  7. IF THERE IS AN OUTBREAK OF COVID-19 IN THE WORKPLACE – There are certain obligations that an employer must adhere to when there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace. Ensure that the infected employee stays at home and self-isolates and advise them to immediately contact their GP if they haven’t done so already. Inform employees that there has been an outbreak in a clear and calm fashion. Let them know that if they develop symptoms that they should contact their doctor immediately and follow their advice.
  8. NEW EMPLOYEES – What if a new employee is due to start a job in your organisation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Firstly, contact the employee and explain the situation. Ask the employee to postpone the start date and if the employee agrees send a letter or an email to confirm this. If the employee does not want to postpone the start date, the employee will have to start work and may be laid off.  It is, of course, vital to ensure that the contract of employment has a lay-off provision. This may be a good time to review your employee contracts and staff handbook!
  9. GDPR OBLIGATIONS – obligations in relation to GDPR are not suspended during the COVID-19 period and organisations are expected to comply in the usual way with GDPR requests.  There are three important criteria to adhere to during this time.  Firstly, communicate with the employee regarding their request.  Secondly, provide contact information on who is dealing with the matter. Thirdly, be sure to document all communication on the issue.  Both employers and employees need to be both reasonable and realistic during this time and an employer could request an extension of time to comply with the request in light of the current COVID-19 restrictions.
  10. PERFORMANCE REVIEWS – If at all possible, try to keep the normal HR processes in place for your employees. Performance reviews could be completed remotely and also provide an opportunity for the organisation to touch base with their employees.
Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, it has been provided for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Amorys Solicitors is a boutique commercial and private client law firm in Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland.
For further information and advice in relation to “How Employers can Respond During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, please contact Daragh Burke, Amorys Solicitors, telephone 01 213 5940 or your usual contact at Amorys.

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