Covid-19 and Your Rights as a Worker – UPDATED 8 May

Respect workersFrequently Asked Questions – UPDATED 08 May 2020

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

The measures announced by the Government on 27 March resulted in further business closures, layoffs and job losses affecting many Unite members.  The measures also mean that more people are working from home in increasingly challenging circumstances.  The information below has been updated to reflect ongoing developments.

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 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 continue updating this FAQ on a rolling basis as the situation develops. The current version incorporates the ‘Roadmap’ announced on 1 May and changes to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme implemented on 6 May. As well as the general information below, please scroll down for specific Health & Safety information relating to outdoor and indoor workplaces.

As we prepare for workplaces to re-open (see current schedule below), Unite, together with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is continuing to engage with Government and employers in different sectors to ensure the safety of our members, and to protect their terms and conditions going forward.

On a broader level, Unite is also determined to ensure that working people, their families and communities do not pay the price for any economic recession when we emerge from this emergency.  In this regard, click here to download our policy document Hope or Austerity: A Road Map for a Better Fairer Ireland after the Pandemic.

A PDF of this document is available here.  

Please note that this information only applies to the Republic of Ireland. 

 

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 advice.  Your GP will assess you and decide if a test for COVID-19 is necessary.

*  DO 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 €350 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, which is also available to members of a household who have to self-isolate in connection with COVID-19, is available from the first day of illness.   The enhanced Illness Benefit arrangements will now continue in force until 19 June.

What if I am working from home?

On Friday 27 March the Government issued an instruction to people to stay at home and to only travel to and from work if providing an essential service as specified here. This inevitably means that many Unite members are either working from home, have been placed on layoff or rendered unemployed (further information on your rights in the event of layoff/job loss is below).

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.

Revenue has made provisions for these people to be reimbursed for work-related expenses, such as heating, electricity and possibly broadband expenses.

An employer can pay €3.20 tax-free (without PAYE, PRSI or USC being deducted) a day to their employee to cover additional costs involved in working from home.   It is important to note that there is no legal obligation on your employer to make such a payment.

Even if your employer does not make this payment, you will still be eligible for tax relief on such expenses.  Such claims would need to be supported by evidence in the form of receipts, and you may be required to produce a letter from your employer confirming that you have been working from home.

Further information on e-working and tax is available on the Revenue website here.  Health and safety information relating to working from home during the COVID-19 emergency is available here.

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

While the widespread closures referenced above mean that many people have to work from home, there may be other workers in ‘essential services’ who wish to work from home during this period 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 as well as Government advice and instructions.

You may be an essential worker whose presence is necessary for only some of the normal working week when particular tasks need to be performed. If so, it may be worthwhile highlighting this fact to your employer. Given the ‘stay-at-home’ order announced on 27 March, with the exception of essential workers and the rolling relaxation of restrictions detailed below, attendance may otherwise expose you and your employer to criminal sanction.

What workplaces will be re-opening, and when?

The workplace restrictions announced on 27 March will continue in force until 18 May.

On 1 May, the Government published its ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’ which includes a schedule for the reopening of workplaces in different sectors.  The Roadmap provides as follows:

  • 18 May: outdoor workplaces such as construction sites will re-open, as will some retail outlets.
  • 8 June: workers that can maintain a two-metre distance from colleagues constantly will be allowed to return to work. Remote working will be maintained for all those who can do so.
  • 29 June: organisations where employees have low levels of daily interaction with people and where social distancing can be maintained will be allowed to reopen. This will include opening cafés and restaurants providing on-premises food and drink where they can comply with social distancing measures.
  • 20 July: restrictions on higher-risk services like hairdressers and barbers, involving direct physical contact for periods of time between people, will start to be loosened.
  • 10 August: almost all remaining restrictions will be lifted.

Click here to read the full Roadmap document.

What if my employer asks me to attend work, but I don’t feel safe doing so?

Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.

What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme?

Government-ordered closures of businesses (most recently on 27 March 2020), as well as reduced demand in some sectors due to the pandemic, have resulted in a significant number of lay-offs.

The Government has asked those employers who have ceased trading to continue to pay workers during this period; this measure is intended to retain the link between workers and their employers.

A wage subsidy scheme was established providing that the Government would pay relevant employers 70 per cent of a workers’ salary (after tax) – up to maximum of €410 per week – in respect of workers who would otherwise have been laid off. This Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, which employers may top up, is intended to ensure that workers retain their link with employers and they do not have to submit a jobseeker claim. This scheme replaced the COVID-19 Refund Scheme announced on 15 March, and is scheduled to apply for a period of 12 weeks from March 26th.

Both the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme were due to expire towards the end of June, but the Taoiseach has said they will be extended, although the precise pathway is not yet clear.  Unite and the trade union movement will continue advocating to protect workers’ incomes. Any changes to the schemes will be reflected in future Unite FAQs.

On 15 April, changes to the Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme were announced which primarily addressed anomalies which had become apparent at the higher and lower ends of the earnings spectrum.  The Scheme has now moved from the ‘transitional’ to the ‘operational’ phase.

Operation of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme:

  • Initially, and until 4 May 2020, the subsidy scheme refunded employers €410 for each qualifying employee.
  • From 4 May 2020, the subsidy payment is moving to a system based on the previous net weekly pay for each employee. See further information below.
  • Employers should pay the relevant subsidy to each employee and may make an additional payment so that the total pay does not exceed the average net weekly pay of the employee.
  • The subsidy scheme applies both to employers who make additional payments to their employees and those that are not in a position to do so.
  • Employers make this subsidy payment to their employees through their normal payroll process.
  • Employers will then be reimbursed for amounts paid to eligible employees and notified to Revenue via the payroll process.
  • The reimbursement will, in general, be made within two working days after receipt of the payroll submission.
  • Income tax and USC will not be applied to the subsidy payment made through the payroll.
  • Employee PRSI will not apply to the subsidy or any additional payment by the employer.
  • Employer’s PRSI will not apply to the subsidy and will be reduced from 11.05% to 0.5% on the additional ‘top-up’ payment from the employer.

Subsidy rates from 4 May

The following new rates are expected to apply to payroll submitted from 4 May with a pay date on or after that date until the end of the scheme. (No backdating of the revised rates prior to 4 May will apply.)

Employees previously earning up to €586 net per week

  • An 85% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay does not exceed €412.
  • A flat rate subsidy of up to €350 shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €412 but not more than €500.
  • A 70% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €500 but not more than €586, with the maximum cap of €410 applying.

Employees previously earning over €586 net per week

  • For employees whose average net weekly pay is greater than €586 per week but not more than €960 per week, the temporary wage subsidy shall not exceed €350 per week, and shall be calculated with reference to the gross salary paid by the employer and its effect on net average wages as follows:
    • A subsidy of €350 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount up to 60% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
    • A subsidy of €205 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 60% but not more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
    • No subsidy shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings.

A comprehensive FAQ on the Wage Subsidy Scheme is available here.

What if my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, but is refusing to pay the top up in respect of public holidays?

Payment for public holidays is generally subject to the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act, and Unite would argue that if an employer is topping up the Temporary Wage Subsidy they should also do so in respect of public holidays.  However, given that the Act did not envisage the current circumstances, an employer may argue that they are not obliged to pay the top up – which is at the employer’s discretion – in respect of public holidays. Any disputes in this regard would need to be raised by way of a formal grievance in the first instance and thereafter to the Adjudication Services of the Workplace Relations Commission.

What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is NOT operating the Wage Subsidy Scheme?

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 has been introduced which applies to those workers whose employers lay them off.  This Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is paid at a flat rate of €350 per week.

The payment is available to all employees and the self-employed who have lost their job due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

The Covid-19 unemployment payment can be applied for through the Department of Social Welfare’s online portal www.MyWelfare.ie.

All that is required is for the applicant to have an email address, a bank account and a Personal Public Service Number.  You will find your PPS number on a range of documents, including previous payslips. Simply go onto the Covid-19 Services section of the website and apply for the payment. You will have to set up an account but it is a simple and straight forward process.

To avoid any delay in payment, it is very important that you check carefully to ensure you have supplied the correct bank account and PPS numbers.

 What about other social welfare payments?

If you were working and were also in receipt of any social welfare payment such as a Carers Payment, Working Family Payment (WFP) or One-Parent Family Payment, you can, provided you have lost your job due to COVID-19, also claim the COVID-19 emergency payment, in addition to retaining your existing welfare payment. The COVID-19 Payment Unemployment Payment will replace your employment income and will be regarded by the Department as equivalent to employment income.

If you have one adult and one or more dependent children you should claim a Jobseeker’s Payment instead of the COVID-19 Pandemic Payment.

This is because you can claim an additional allowance for your adult dependant and child dependants, which will bring your weekly payment to in excess of the €350 weekly payment due under the emergency COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.  Further information on Covid-19 and social welfare payments is available here.

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

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.

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

  • Due to a reduction in the amount of work to be done, your weekly pay is less than half your normal weekly pay, or
  • 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.

If I have been placed on layoff or short time working as a result of COVID-19, can I claim for a redundancy payment?

The provisions of Section 12 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 have been suspended where an employee has been temporarily laid off or put on short-term work arising from the COVID-19 emergency measures.

 

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Workplace health and safety – outdoor sites

All non-essential construction sites should have been closed as a result of the measures announced by the Government on 27 March.  Outdoor sites are now due to re-open on May 18th.  Please click here to read Unite’s proposals for ensuring that such sites are ‘Covid-safe’.

You should have a Health and Safety Representative – and you should know who s/he is

Under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, all employees are entitled to elect a Health and Safety representative.  You may also have a union safety rep.  It is important that you know who they are, that they are fully updated on any health and safety risks and relevant measures.

Your employer must carry out a Risk Assessment for COVID-19

Employers are required to assess the risk for COVID-19 in their workplace, to identify and implement suitable control measures, and to communicate those measures to all relevant employees and others who may be impacted.

Your employers must implement hygiene measures

Hot water, soap and hand sanitiser must be freely available on site, and workers must be able to disinfect shared tools between uses.

Your employer must implement social distancing measures

The HSE recommends that people maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet from each other.

This can be done in a variety of ways: staggered work, social distancing in canteens or employees taking lunch individually; staggering the use of hot water and washing facilities.  No more than one person should work in a room at a time.

Traveling to site

Social distancing requirements mean that people should not be sharing crowded transport to and from work (for example, minibuses travelling to construction sites).  Employers should consider deployments carefully, where possibly assigning workers to sites near where they live to limit travel, especially if public transport needs to be used.

You are legally entitled and obliged to protect your health and the health of others

Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.

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Workplace health and safety – indoor workplaces

 You should have a Health and Safety Representative – and you should know who s/he is

Under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, all employees are entitled to elect a Health and Safety representative.  You may also have a union safety rep.  It is important that you know who they are, that they are fully updated on any health and safety risks and relevant measures.

Your employer must carry out a Risk Assessment for COVID-19

Employers are required to assess the risk for COVID-19 in their workplace, to identify and implement suitable control measures, and to communicate those measures to all relevant employees and others who may be impacted.

Hygiene measures

Your employer should provide:

  • hand washing soap and sanitiser
  • access to warm water
  • cleaning agents
  • gloves
  • closed bins

Office cleaning

Employers should ensure that offices are cleaned thoroughly at frequent and regular intervals and more frequently than usual.

Where employees are working in customer-facing roles, such cleaning should include touchpoint cleaning to protect staff and customers. Staff should be facilitated in taking regular breaks to wash hands, even if this means temporary office closure and resultant disruption for customers.

Minimising interactions

Staff should and enforce strict social distancing of two metres between themselves and members of the public, and between members of the public where applicable. In situations where a queue could form, tape should be placed on the ground two metres apart where customers must stand in order to maintain strict social distancing.

Minimising movement and travel

Employees should work from only one location, preferably nearest to their home.

You are legally entitled and obliged to protect your health and the health of others

Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.

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