COVID-19 and your Rights as a Worker – Updated 18 March 2020

Respect workersFrequently Asked Questions – UPDATED 18 March 2020

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency is evolving rapidly and Unite will be updating our advice as dictated by circumstances. 

Unite is endeavouring to maintain our service to members during this unprecedented health emergency. In order to facilitate social distancing in line with public health guidelines, our offices are now closed to public visitors until further notice.

If you require assistance, please PHONE your local office:

Dublin – 01 873 4577
Dundalk – 042 933 4338
Waterford 051 875 438

Alternatively, you can email adminroi@unitetheunion.org.

Below, please find information on some questions you may have as a worker affected by the COVID-19 emergency.  We will be updating this FAQ on a rolling basis as the situation develops.

A PDF of this document is available here.

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What if I fall sick and/or need to self-isolate?

If you feel you may have COVID-19, or may need to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19, the first thing you should do is phone your GP and self-isolate in line with HSE adviceDO NOT GO TO YOUR GP IN PERSON.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, or a GP has certified that you need to self-isolate, you need to inform your employer and adhere to any employment sick pay policy in place.  You then need to apply for Illness Benefit. An enhanced Illness Benefit of €305 per week has been agreed for COVID-19 related cases. To be eligible for this payment you must be confined to your home or a medical facility.  This payment is available from the first day of illness.

In this regard please also note that while not a legal entitlement Government, Unions and Employers have issued the following strong, joint statement:

“The trade unions and employer representative bodies are now, jointly with the Government, urging all employers to support national public health objectives by continuing to pay workers who cannot attend work due to Covid-19 illness or certified self-isolation, the difference between the special Illness Benefit rate and their normal wages.”  

What if I have no symptoms but my employer has told me to work from home?

If you are working from home at your employer’s instruction, your employer must pay you your usual wage.  Confirm with your employer that this is the case before agreeing to work from home.

What if I want to work from home during this period?

Many people may want to work from home in order to mind children during the period of school closure or for other health, personal or family reasons. You should approach the company and request to be facilitated in that regard.  It is at your employer’s discretion whether or not to grant that request but they should be cognisant of public health and Government advice.

What if I have been placed on lay off or short-time working?

The Government asked those employers who have ceased trading to continue to pay workers during this period – at least at the jobseeker rate of €203 per week.

A refund scheme is being established which will pay employers the €203 per week for each worker who would otherwise have been laid off if a business has to cease trading due to social distancing measures. This is intended to ensure that workers retain their link with employers and they do not have to submit a jobseeker claim.

If a worker is laid off without pay, there is no need to claim in person at an Intreo centre.  Instead, a new support payment is being introduced which will apply to those workers whose employers do lay them off.  This new Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be paid at a flat rate €203 per week for a period of six weeks. Individuals are asked to then submit the normal jobseekers claim form within this six week period to receive their full entitlements.

The new emergency payment has a simple, one page application form and information is available online here:

The completed application form can be returned by post to PO Box 12896 Dublin 1 or you can drop it into your local Intreo Centre.

If your employer reduces your hours to 3 days or less per week from your normal full-time hours, you can apply for a payment called Short Time Work Support which is a form of Jobseeker’s Benefit.

Your employer can also put you on short-time working which is a more formal procedure and applies in the following situation:

  1. Due to a reduction in the amount of work to be done, your weekly pay is less than half your normal weekly pay, or
  2. Your hours worked are reduced to less than half your normal weekly working hours 

What if my employer instructs me to go home?

You are entitled to clarity regarding your work situation, and in particular regarding whether you are to be paid, or are being laid off, made redundant or expected to work from home. If unclear on any of these or related questions, contact your employer in writing (e.g. by email) and ask them to confirm your employment and payment status in writing.  In the event that your employer says that you will not be paid the Department of Social Protection will require written confirmation of your status if you are applying for a Social Protection payment.

A simple email detailing when, where and by who you were told to go home and asking that your status be confirmed to you in writing without delay will assist you to explain your circumstances to the Department of Social Protection.

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This pandemic creates an unprecedented situation for you, your union, your employer, your family, and every person and Department in the state. Unite appeals to all members to follow the Public Health guidelines being given. In addition we would ask that members desist from panic buying or other behaviours that will exacerbate the emergency and do their utmost to prevent contagion, particularly to those most vulnerable and with underlying health issues that put them particularly at risk.

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