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Covid-19 and Employment Law – Milestones in May

May has been a very busy month from an employment law perspective. There have been a number of government announcements and updates that directly impact employer and employee obligations and entitlements. These updates are summarised below:

1. Roadmap for reopening society and business:

On Friday 1st May, the Government published its “Roadmap for reopening society and business”. This document is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/news/58bc8b-taoiseach-announces-roadmap-for-reopening-society-and-business-and-u/?referrer=http://www.gov.ie/roadmap/.

Phase 1 of this roadmap commenced on 18th May as a number of workers returned to the workplace including for example outdoor workers such as construction workers and gardeners as well as those employed by the likes of garden centres, hardware stores and farmers’ markets. 

Phase 2 is scheduled for 8th June and envisages the return of workers who can work safely while maintaining a 2-meter distance from others.

2. Publication of the Government’s Return to Work Safety Protocol

On Saturday 9th May, the Government published its “Return to Work Safety Protocol”. This document is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/22829a-return-to-work-safely-protocol/.

For a detailed consideration of this protocol and the obligations it imposes on employers see our recent article entitled “Reopening the Workplace – The New Normal”, available at this link.

3. Amendment to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme to correct anomaly in respect of workers returning from maternity, paternity or adoptive leave

On Friday 29th May, the Government announced that the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) has been amended to fix an anomaly in the scheme whereby due to the technical rules of the scheme up to now, workers who had been on maternity leave, paternity leave or adoptive leave during January and February ended up either not being eligible to receive any subsidy under the scheme or not being able to receive a the full value of the subsidy they would otherwise have been entitled to receive had they not been on leave in January/February.

There had been increasing commentary in the media in recent weeks in respect of this anomaly including from our own Anne O’Connell who gave commentary on this issue on both RTE News and the Claire Byrne Live show on Radio 1.

In a welcome announcement for the numerous employees affected, the Government have now confirmed that this potentially discriminatory anomaly has been corrected so that going forward these workers will be eligible to benefit from the TWSS.

It has also been confirmed that Revenue will implement this amendment retrospectively from 26th March for employees who were retained on payroll. However Revenue have said no retrospection will apply for employees who were laid off and in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment (“PUP”) as those employees would already have been in receipt of an income support payment from the State. It is open to employers to rehire those employees and the temporary wage subsidy will be applied for those employees once their PUP claim has ceased.

Revenue have advised that this change will require manual operation and system updates are ongoing and should be operational from 12th June.    

4. Suspension of the right of employees on layoff/short-time to claim redundancy – extended

On Friday 29th May, the Government also announced that the temporary suspension of the application of section 12 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967-2014 will be extended to 10th August.

Section 12 is the section that in ordinary circumstances allows employees to apply for redundancy where they have spent a consecutive period of 4 weeks on layoff or short-time (or six weeks in thirteen weeks where not more than three have been consecutive).

The application of section 12 had been temporarily suspended for the period from 13th March to 31st May. In some much needed clarity for employers, on Friday 29th May, the Government confirmed this suspension of the application of section 12 will remain in place until 10th August.

For further details on employer rights and obligations during layoff, short-time and redundancy have a look at our recent article entitled “Covid 19 – A timely reminder of employer obligations in respect of layoff, short time and redundancy, available at this link.

Authors: Anne O’Connell and Laura Reid

Dated 30th May, 2020

Anne O’Connell

Solicitors

Fitzwilliam Hall

Fitzwilliam Place

Dublin 2

www.aocsolicitors.ie

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