Coronavirus impact: No obligation on employers to pay workers who are told to self-isolate 

Coronavirus impact: No obligation on employers to pay workers who are told to self-isolate 

AN employment law consultancy firm with offices on South Mall in Cork has seen a 50% increase in calls to their HR advice line amid coronavirus fears.

It has been confirmed tonight that there are four more cases of the coronavirus in the Republic of Ireland - bringing the total here up to six.

The latest cases involve two male and two female patients, from the western part of the country.

Earlier today, it was confirmed that a further two cases were diagnosed in Northern Ireland. 

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer with the Department of Health, said: “Tonight we can confirm there are now six cases of COVID-19 in Ireland. Contact tracing is underway for these four new cases.”

Employers across the country are now seeking advice on how best to manage and prepare their workplace for covid-19.

Employment law firm, Peninsula, has received hundreds of calls from concerned employers in the past week.

Due to the influx of requests, the Peninsula advisory team has prepared a comprehensive FAQ document for its clients in addition to providing 24/7 telephone support.

Queries from employers range across a number of areas, including whether they need to pay employees who self-isolate, to questions about temporary layoff due to a downturn in work, harassment of workers suspected of having flu symptoms, to remote working practices.

Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland has been operating a 'Drive-Through' Coronavirus or Covid-19 testing facility.Picture shows Emergency Department specialist nurses in a simulated drive-through test.
Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland has been operating a 'Drive-Through' Coronavirus or Covid-19 testing facility.Picture shows Emergency Department specialist nurses in a simulated drive-through test.

Alan Hickey, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula, said that despite growing concerns, the risk of contracting the virus in Ireland remains relatively low, but employers should bear certain things in mind.

He suggested postponing business trips to affected regions, and to carry out meetings via Skype or video conferencing where possible.

Mr Hickey went on to talk about quarantine measures: “There is no obligation to pay an employee who is not sick but cannot come to work because they have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate, or have had to go into quarantine.

“However, due to the circumstances, employers may decide to maintain payment to the individual, particularly if they were in an affected area on business. If employees who fall into this category attempt to come to work, they should be reminded of these instructions and instructed to go home for the stated period.

"Alternatively, the employee could be allowed to take this period as annual leave or provided the opportunity to work from home while they see if they do start to show symptoms,” Mr Hickey added.

Employees worried about working with a colleague or who are worried about contracting the virus should be offered reassurance.

“An employer's response to this will depend on the actual risk of catching the virus and will depend on the specific circumstances including whether anyone in the workforce has already been diagnosed or there is another real risk of exposure. 

Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland has been operating a 'Drive-Through' Coronavirus or Covid-19 testing facility 
Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland has been operating a 'Drive-Through' Coronavirus or Covid-19 testing facility 

"Employers may decide to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave, or allow the employee to work from home where this is feasible. Responses should be proportionate to the specific situation,” Mr Hickey said.

“If a business experiences a downturn in trade, it may be able to lay off staff without pay provided there is a specific term permitting layoff without pay in the employment contract. 

"You may be obliged to provide full pay during a period of temporary layoff in the absence of a term in the contract allowing lay off without pay,” Alan Hickey advised.

“If there's no specific term in a business's employment contracts allowing lay off without pay, the employer may need to reach an agreement with the employees before imposing a period of unpaid layoff.

“A contingency plan for increased levels of absence is also recommended. 

"Employers will likely have to prepare for higher than normal levels of absence in their business to deal with self-isolation, sickness absence or parents who need time off work because their child's school has closed,” he concluded.

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