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Here are workers' entitlements if they are affected by Covid-19

The first case of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland was confirmed over the weekend.

Image: Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

THE DEPARTMENT OF Social Protection has issued advice for workers who are diagnosed with the Covid-19 coronavirus and those who may need to self-isolate as a precautionary measure. 

The first case of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland was confirmed in a male patient from Scoil Chaitríona in Glasnevin, Dublin 9. He is currently receiving medical treatment.

The decision to close the school for two weeks was announced yesterday evening. Health officials have contacted the principal, staff, and parents or guardians of pupils.

As previously reported, the impact of self-isolation has caused concern for both employers and employees – with employers worried about staffing numbers, and employees uneasy about taking unpaid sick leave. 

This evening, the Department of Social Protection issued advice for workers in relation to Covid-19. The advice is as follows: 

People who are diagnosed with Covid-19

The Department said where an employee is diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus, normal workplace arrangements in respect of sick-absence should apply. 

The employe should, subject to the latest advice from the HSE, be treated from a workplace perspective in the same manner as any member of staff who takes sick-leave for any other reason, the Department said. 

Employees diagnosed with Covid-19 can, as is the case of any other illness, apply for income support from the Department of Social Protection in the form of illness benefit based on social insurance contributions or supplementary welfare allowance based on a means test. 

People who are not diagnosed with Covid-19 but who self-isolate

An employee who is advised or directed by a registered medical practitioner to self-isolate on the basis that they are a probable source of Covid-19 infection can, if their employer ceases to pay their wages, apply for income support from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

A person who self-isolates in accordance with the up-to-date guidelines from the HSE but does not have a medical certificate from a medical practitioner, may apply for an income support in the form of supplementary welfare allowance.

People who are requested to stay at home by their employer

Anyone who is not advised to self-isolate in accordance with the up-to-date guidelines of the HSE, but is requested to stay at home by their employer as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 can, in situations where the employer cannot continue to pay their wages, apply for income support in the form of a jobseeker payment or supplementary welfare allowance. 

People who need to take time off work to care for a person affected by Covid-19

The Department noted that many employers can, and do, agree compassionate leave arrangements with staff who need to take short periods of time off to care for another person. 

These include arrangements to enable employees to work remotely from home, to alter shift patterns, to work up time taken, or to bring forward annual leave entitlements from future work periods. 

Where it’s not possible to make appropriate compassionate leave arrangements, employees can call on some statutory entitlements. 

An employee is entitled to paid leave, known as ‘force majeure leave’, where they are urgently required to attend to the needs of a person who is affected by an illness or injury, including an actual or probable case of Covid-19. The person to whom care is being provided must be “in a relationship of domestic dependency” with the employee.  It is limited to a total of three days in a 12 month period or five days in a 36 month period.

Parents are entitled, with six weeks’ notice, to take up to 22 weeks unpaid parental leave to care for each child up to 12 years of age (16 years of age in the case of a child with a disability).

Parents are also entitled, with six weeks’ notice, to take parental leave of two weeks for each child under one year of age, born on or after 1 November 2019. Parents taking parents leave are eligible to apply for parents benefit from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Employers are free to waive notice periods for parental/parents leave or to agree to provide paid leave as an alternative to parental/parents leave. Employers can also agree alternative leave/absence arrangements.

Trade union talks

Meanwhile, unions have called for talks with employers on how to handle the response to Covid-19. 

Liam Berney of the the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) told RTÉ’s News at One that congress had been contacted by a number of workers concerned about the possible impact of the coronavirus on their incomes. 

“At this early stage, it would be prudent for employers, unions and employees to sit down, discuss likely implications in their workplace if an active case arrived in their workplace, and to have in place arrangements that seek to protect, not only the business, but also seek to protect the workers, their health and safety, and their income,” Berney said. 

“We believe that early dialogue is important and agreement is sought in circumstances where a person contracts the virus, and what are the implications for workers that may have been in contact with that person,” Mr Berney said.  

In a statement today, ICTU general secretary Patricia King said:

“Employers must engage with staff and union representatives before decisions are taken regarding working arrangements as a result o the virus.”

Separately, Labour Party leadership candidate Alan Kelly has proposed bringing emergency legislation to the Dáil to deal with issues surrounding the Coronavirus. 

“I have asked the Labour Party’s legal team to draft legislation protecting workers who may be impacted by the Coronavirus, specifically on the remuneration of workers who have to self-isolate and how we can use private medical facilities, particularly intensive care beds if needed. I intend to bring both pieces of legislation to the Dáil this Thursday,” Kelly said. 

With reporting by Jesse Melia

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