FRONTLINE healthcare workers who have childcare issues will not get special paid leave, according to a HSE circular issued today.
But they may be permitted to work from home if all other avenues including different rostering arrangements or weekend working have been exhausted.
A circular from the HSE national director of human resources, Anne Marie Hoey, sent to managers said all forms of flexible working must be considered.
However, she said employees who cannot work from outside the home could be assigned work outside their current core duties and “potentially a new role”.
She said initially other options including working adjusted hours should be examined to enable workers to balance work and caring responsibilities.
The circular was sent following a meeting yesterday at which union sources said HSE management raised the possibility of enabling frontline staff to mind their children at home while getting paid.
This raised the prospect of largescale absenteeism as the health service tries to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There is no special paid leave available for Covid-19 caring arrangements during this time,” said Ms Hoey.
“If employees are not set up for remote working at present, they need to continue to remain available to work, and their employer/manager should identify work that can be given to them,” she said.
“Employers/managers are required to identify and engage with employees on alternative arrangements eg staggering hours, wider opening hours including weekend work, and temporary assignment to another role.
“If employees cannot work outside the home and cannot perform their current role remotely, the employee is still to be considered as actively on duty and available to work.”
Ms Hoey said employers and managers are required to be flexible and innovative in terms of ensuring that employees remain as productive as possible during this time.
She said this many include assigning work outside the employees’ usual core duties, “ie potentially a new role”.
Ms Hoey said this should be continuously reviewed by management to ensure that employees are placed where they are most needed to deliver critical services.
Fórsa said in an update on its website that the HSE circular confirmed that the HSE will not give staff with childcare responsibilities paid leave.
It said in a statement that maintaining existing arrangements “falls far short of what’s required to assist essential health staff, and to maximise the numbers available in hospitals, community health services, and nursing homes”.
“The HSE has today confirmed that it is essentially following Department of Public Expenditure and Reform guidance on childcare supports for essential workers,” it said.
“While it has been widely reported that the HSE was considering paid leave for staff with childcare responsibilities, clarification received form the HSE today confirms that this will not happen.”
It said the possibility was raised by the HSE at a meeting yesterday and it sought clarification on the grounds that the proposals seemed to contradict department of expenditure advice.
“It was also unclear how it would be compatible with providing essential services during the Covid-19 public health crisis,” it said.
The union update said it did not seek the proposal floated by the HSE.
It said unions have sought a solution where the HSE provides direct childcare support to essential workers or meets the cost of childcare.
The union said staffing pressures in the health service have worsened in recent weeks as because significant numbers of health workers have contracted the virus, or have had to self-isolate.
It noted that it is almost seven weeks since Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the closure of all schools and crèches.