The new coronavirus will have a big impact on the workplace – ranging from being a potential breeding ground for infection to workers having to self-isolate at home for fourteen days. Will people be paid and how will they pay their bills?
Q What are the basic rules for employers to protect their staff from the virus?
A There needs to be several notices around making workers aware of the virus and how it is spread.
Respiratory secretions produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes containing the virus are most likely to be the main means of transmission.It is also possible that someone may become infected by touching a surface, object or the hand of an infected person that has been contaminated with respiratory secretions and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes -such as touching door knob or shaking hands then touching own face.
Q Are good hand washing facilities and hand sanitisers part of an employer’s obligation?
A Yes, again there should be reminder notice to staff on how best to wash their hands. Hot water and soap should be always available. Sanitiser should be placed near lifts if it can be secured.
Q There are inevitably a lot of communal areas in the workplace. How long does the virus survive?
A It depends what surface the virus is on, whether its exposed to sunlight and differences in temperatures.Under most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 72 hours.We know that similar viruses are transferred to and by people’s hands. Therefore, regular hand hygiene and cleaning of frequently touched surfaces will help to reduce the risk of infection.
Q What kind of office etiquette is a must?
A People should shield coughs and sneezes with a tissue, elbow, or shoulder , not their bare hands.
They need to wash their hands correctly for twenty seconds in warm water and soap.
Q What should I do if one of the near colleagues is coughing and sneezing?
A If the coronavirus becomes more widespread the employer should step in and allow the person who have the symptoms to stay at home until they are well. It has clearly not reached that point yet and thousands of employees are at work coughing and sneezing. It’s imperative they practice good cold etiquette.
Q How can I maximize the ability to work from home?
A While many jobs -retail, manufacturing, health care- require people to be physically present, work, including meetings, that can be done remotely should be encouraged if coming to work or travelling risks exposure to the virus. Videoconferencing, for instance, is a good alternative to risky fact-to-face meetings. But it won’t be possible for all jobs clearly and employers will have to put the health of their employees first.
Q If I deal a lot with the public in my job – how will I cope?
A The advice to people who deal with the general public as part of their work is try to maintain a distance of three feet from customers or clients. This “social distance” is particularly important if the customer is coughing, sneezing or has a fever. The guidance for “workers dealing with the general public” does not recommend the wearing of facemasks if the customer is feeling well and does not have respiratory symptoms.
Q If we reach the point where an employee feels unwell and fear they have the virus at work.What should be done?
AIf someone becomes unwell in the workplace they should be removed to an area which is at least two metres away from other people. If possible find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation.Ring a GP and ask for advice.
Q What if we find out a person with the virus has visited our workplace?
Closure of the workplace is not recommended.The management team of the office or workplace will be contacted by HSE public health staff and they will identify people who have been in contact with them and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.
Staff who have not had close contact with the original confirmed case can continue to attend work.
Q What happens if a worker who has travelled to Ireland from an affected area - China, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iran and four areas in northern Italy - Lombardy, Veneto Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont- returns to work?
AIf an employee has travelled to Ireland from an affected area they should contact the HSE at 1850 24 1850 for advice.
If they remain well, no specific measures are needed in the workplace. They will be advised to watch out for any symptoms of the virus for 14 days following their return. The symptoms include cough, temperature and, sometimes breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath.
For an employee with no symptoms, there is no need for them to stay off work or to isolate themselves.
If they develop any symptoms within 14 days of return from an affected area, the employee should isolate themselves and phone their GP.
Q I don’t have coronavirus but have been advised to ‘self isolate’. Do I qualify for sick pay?
A There has been a lot of confusion about this. There is no legal obligation on employers to pay although many are likely to do so.
However, the Department of Employments Affairs and Social Protection confirmed that workers who have been advised to stay at home because they are at risk of catching the virus can get state-funded sick pay.
A department spokesperson said those advised to stay at home by their GP but not diagnosed with the coronavirus can get state support.
It said this can be paid in the form of illness benefit or supplementary welfare allowance. However, illness benefit is only paid after six days out of work, while the supplementary welfare allowance is means-tested.
“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 the coronavirus infection can, if their employer ceases to pay their wages, apply for income support from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection,” it said in a statement.
“This income support will be paid in the form of illness benefit based on social insurance contributions or supplementary welfare allowance based on a means test.”
Q What if I’m self-isolated at home and don’t have a medical cert?
A The department said a person who self-isolates in accordance with HSE guidelines but does not have a medical cert can apply for supplementary welfare allowance.
Q: What are my entitlements if I need to take time off work to care for a person affected by the coronavirus?
A: Employers may agree to compassionate leave, which could include working remotely from home, or changed shift patterns, or bringing forward future annual leave entitlements.
Where compassionate leave is not made available, a worker can apply for force majeure leave, which is limited to three days in a 12 month period or five days in a 36 month period.
Parents can also take up to 22 weeks unpaid parental leave for children up to 12 years of age, or parents leave of two weeks for children under one year of age. They must give six weeks’ notice to avail of these entitlements, although employers may waive this.
Q: What if I’m requested to stay at home by my employer as a precaution against the spread of the virus?
AYou may not be paid, in which case you could apply for a jobseeker payment or supplementary welfare allowance.
Ryanair is asking staff to volunteer to take unpaid leave and warned that it “cannot rule out layoffs” due to weaker bookings and passenger no-shows as a result of the coronavirus.
Twitter and Google have asked their employees to work from home due to the virus.
Q: What if I’ve been diagnosed with the virus?
A: Normal workplace arrangements relating to sick leave and illness benefit should apply to those diagnosed with the virus
There is no statutory obligation on employers to pay sick leave although many employers have sick leave policies that entitle workers to a limited amount of uncertified and certified paid leave.
A secondary school pupil from Dublin has become the first person in the Republic to be diagnosed with the virus and forced a school to close. How should parents around the country respond?
Less than a quarter of children who attend a pre-school on the same campus as the now-closed secondary school in the east of the country turned up today amid coronavirus fears.