According to a UK Government press release, up to one-fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks of the present outbreak. Obviously you will not want infected employees in the workplace. You will need to review your contracts of employment with affected staff to determine your liability to cover sick pay.
If an employee has contracted the virus then normal sick pay rules apply. If you do not have a contractual sick pay policy then there is no obligation to pay the employee during this period and such a payment would be discretionary. As of March 10, 2020, employees are only entitled to illness benefit from the Department of Social Protection after the 6th day of sickness absence. Emergency legislation is being considered to waive the requirement for the 6 day waiting period for medically certified cases of self-isolation and coronavirus illness.
If an employee is instructed by his doctor to stay away from work for 14 days, there is no legal requirement to pay the employees who are under these instructions unless they report to you as sick during that time in which case normal sickness absence and pay procedures apply. If employees who are advised to stay at home but return to work early, you should remind them of the doctor’s instructions and have them return home for the advised period.
There is no legal requirement to pay the employee as it is Government advice and not you who are making them stay at home.
Employees who are ready and willing to work but are not provided with work (as would be the case with a temporary closure) can be placed on lay off. Payment depends on the agreed employment contract. If there is no contractual provision, you can negotiate with employees a period of unpaid lay-off. Lay-offs must be given notice and it must be by a fair selection.
Employees temporarily laid off without pay due to reduction in business activity can apply for Job Seekers Benefit. Employees on short term working hours can apply for Short Time Working Support Benefit.
If a child is unable to attend school due to closure and the employee must remain at home to look after them, normal rules on unpaid time will apply unless you have any other rules to cover this situation. If the employee has to remain at home due to the child being unwell then Force Majeure Leave rules may apply.
Home working arrangements
You may also benefit from contingency planning. How can you reorganise tasks if key staff are incapacitated? Spending a little time to plan for these possibilities may save you head-aches should staff be unable to work.
Is it possible to organise a home working scheme for staff? This will not be feasible for all staff, production workers or retail staff for example, but staff that spend their days in front of a computer screen could be supplied with a laptop and work from home.
Where appropriate, there are a wealth of online meeting services that could be utilised to keep in touch with home workers.
You may want to organise a list of alternative contractors you can call on if needed. This should help to minimise disruption if your present sub-contractors are unable to work.
You may want to consider sourcing alternative suppliers if your present supply lines are adversely affected by the flu. China, as we know, supplies a growing number of components many of which find their way into Irish manufactured goods.
Business plan re-evaluation
It is difficult to gauge the possible spread of the Coronavirus but if epidemic conditions arise there is a real possibility that we may see a severe downturn in global, and therefore Irish economic activity. This, combined with any Brexit fallout, may indicate that the time is right to rethink your business plans for 2020.
For example, if restaurant table covers drop due to cancellations, launching or promoting an existing home delivery (take away) service could help to maintain turnover. Likewise, retailers suffering from drops in footfall could create or promote an existing online shop.
How can we help….
Let us hope that the Irish Government is successful in containing the Coronavirus outbreak and limiting disruption to your business. In the event that the virus becomes more aggressive, here are a few ways we could possibly help if you are unable to work:
- If you are unable to maintain in-house accounting functions – bookkeeping, VAT, credit control and payroll for example – consider outsourcing. We know your business and could step-in to keep record keeping up-to-date and meet those important filing deadlines.
- We can help you rethink your business plans and if necessary help you organise additional funding if it should be required.
- We are well connected in the local business community. If you need to source alternative suppliers or sub-contractors we may be able to recommend someone.
- We can recommend online meeting software that you could use in place of face-to-face meetings with suppliers and customers.
Please call Noel Murphy on (021) 4310266 to discuss these or any other concerns you may have.