Practical Advice On COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Posted on
2 Mar 2020
by
Tony Ward, The Wheel's Director of Finance

(Note: as of 6 March, all relevant updates about this evolving situation will be posted here.)

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) now having been identified on the island of Ireland, I would like to make our members aware of some practical steps and advice you can take to ensure the potential impact upon your organisation and the people it serves remains as low as possible.

Putting a Contingency Plan in Place

While the risk posed by COVID-19 remains minimal in Ireland at present, you should nevertheless begin by developing a practical contingency plan to ensure the continuity of day-to-day operations for your organisation.

Similar to how you would prepare for a major weather event, or public transport dispute, this is the time to consider how best to navigate any escalation of the number of COVID-19 across Ireland, and to communicate this plan to your staff and/or volunteers at a suitable point.

(See also the section for employers below.)

Hygiene and Prevention

The most important action we can all take is to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Basic hygiene is perhaps our best defense in that regard.

We encourage you all to read the HSE's Coronavirus information page, including the following do's and don'ts of hand washing:

Do:

  • Wash your hands properly and regularly
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze.
  • Put used tissues into a bin and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Follow the travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs

Don't:

  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

Hand Washing

The HSE has also issued the following essential advice on when precisely to wash your hands:

  • After coughing or sneezing
  • After toilet use
  • Before eating
  • Before and after preparing food
  • If you are in contact with a sick person, especially those with respiratory symptoms
  • If your hands are dirty
  • If you have handled animals or animal waste

Read this step-by-step guide on how to properly wash your hands and avoid infection.

Employers should also be providing hand-sanitizer for the workplace.

Travel Advice

It is essential that everyone follow travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) if travelling to a country or region with a spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

Irish citizens who are abroad, or who intend to travel abroad in the near future and have concerns about COVID-19, can ring the department's dedicated phone line: +353 (0) 1 613 1733.

See also the following Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) information sheet containing Information on COVID-19 for people who have come to Ireland from other countries including visitors, students and workers.

In particular, the sheet highlights the common symptoms of COVID-19, and makes clear recommendations for how and when people who suspect they have been infected should seek help and/or self-isolate. Read it here.

Guidance for Employers

The HPSC has issued this short guide on COVID-19 for workers dealing with the general public.

Employers can also download a series of advice posters here, to help raise awareness in the workplace.

Adare Human Resources Management have issued additional recommendations to employers for managing the developing COVID-19 situation, including:

  • Payment: From a strict legal standpoint, there is no obligation to pay employees when they cannot attend for work. Payment in such circumstances is discretionary. Any more beneficial arrangement is a matter for agreement between the employer and the employee. Employers are encouraged to take a long-term view of the working relationship, recognising that demonstrating concern for the welfare of employees and treating employees fairly translates into a better working environment to the benefit of both the staff and the employer. The custom and practice in the organisation in previous similar instances may be of relevance. In circumstances where there are no sick pay provisions and the employer is not in a financial position to provide for discretionary pay, an employee may elect to apply for annual leave. In the event that the organisations premises is unable to open for and reason outside of the organisations control, the organisation should make every effort to notify employees as soon as possible and employees will not be entitled to be paid. 

    Where the organisation decides that it is possible to open the premises but determines that it is impractical, then in such circumstances employees will be entitled to be paid. However, employment contracts may contain provisions enabling employers to put employees on short time working or lay-off when an event outside the employer’s control impacts on work. For those employers, it may be permissible to send employees home without having to compensate for the reduced hours of work although caution should be exercised when relying on these clauses for short closures. For employers without such a clause in the employment contract, a decision to send employees home could amount to a breach of contractual terms. If found that this was the case, full pay for the lost hours would therefore be due under the Payment of Wages Act 1991.
     
  • What happens where a roster needs to be changed at short notice? Normally, employees are entitled to notice of at least 24 hours of a roster change. However, this does not apply where the change arises from unforeseen circumstances justifying a change in the notification period.
     
  • Working from home: Where appropriate, consideration should be provided to allowing employees to work from home. This will not be feasible for a number of roles where the employee’s presence is required. This may also put pressure on the organisation’s IT infrastructure as demand increases.
     
  • Arriving late and / or leaving early: Where employees arrive late or leave early due to commuter services being impacted, whilst some flexibility may be provided, employers need to consider paid leave where the employees will work up the time missed at a later date, preferably within one month of the occurrence. This is usually more feasible in organisations that already operate a flexi-time system. Alternatively, the option of unpaid leave or annual leave (broken into hours) may be considered.
     
  • Unexcused absence: Some employees may fail to attend for work when suitable public transport is in operation. Unless authorisation has been received, this is not a justifiable reason for absence and should be dealt with under the Organisation’s disciplinary procedure, as with any unexcused absence.
     
  • Schools or crèches closing: In the case of schools or crèches closing, an emergency leave situation may result for some employees. Generally, this would not fall under the legal definition of force majeure leave. Where the employee is unable to make alternative arrangements, annual leave or unpaid leave could be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Key Links & Updates

It is important that everyone continue to stay informed and up to date on this evolving situation. The following websites should be checked regularly.

Health Protecion Surveillance Centre: www.hpsc.ie 

Department of Health - www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-health/

And, finally...

Finally, just a brief reminder that the above information is purely precautionary, and that it is also important to keep perspective on the relatively low rate of threat currently being presented by COVID-19.

Note: as of 6 March, all relevant updates about this evolving situation will be posted here.