The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) presents the challenge to employers of protecting a workplace and employees amid uncertainty about the potential impact of contagion. Ireland is currently monitoring the situation and the HSE HPSC is updating its website daily. At present there are no laboratory confirmed cases in Ireland. Please consult here for travel advice. All non-essential travel to mainland China should be avoided.
During crisis situations, rumour can abound. Therefore, it is important that employers have a robust communication strategy in place to:
- offer up-to-date reliable and consistent information to employees, suppliers and customers.
- clarify the company’s procedures and policies.
Employers need to make sure everyone is familiar with company policies on absence, sick leave, lay-off and short time and force majeure as well as the relevant employment legislation such as Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 and the Payment of Wages Act 1991. Managers must be prepared to deal with these issues as they arise, and employees need to be clear what is required of them. SFA members can seek advice on any of the above at any time.
It is essential to stay healthy and hand hygiene is of paramount importance. There are several HSE campaign posters available, which can be used to heighten awareness among employees.
Key areas to consider:
- Designing a cough/sneeze protocol and correct hand washing procedure;
- Reducing the length and proximity of gatherings between employees/others, instead making greater use of email and teleconferences);
- Ensuring there are adequate supplies of infectious control supplies (e.g., tissues, bins, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitisers);
- Considering non-essential travel restrictions;
- Considering reasonable options for high risk individuals (particularly employees with health concerns or who are pregnant).
It is important for employers to look at their internal policies and procedures to evaluate what impact such disruptions could have on their operations, ability to meet customer demands or in cases of illness on the company sick pay scheme, etc.
Where an employee has contracted an illness, they should not attend work and should follow the advice of their medical practitioner. Employees who have been in contact with individuals who have a virus should attend work unless they are personally showing signs or symptoms of that virus. Some employees may fail to attend for work for fear of catching a virus. This is not a justifiable reason for absence and should be dealt with under the company’s disciplinary procedure, as with any unexcused absence.
Guidance and information regarding people returning to work from China can be found here.
The FAQs document on the HPSC website also details instructions for employers in this situation, linked here (see section 21 in particular).
Careful planning and preparation by employers should encourage readiness for any disruption to normal operations and the implications this will have for organisations. However, situations may arise in organisations that will be unique to that operation and in this case, member employers should contact Emma.firstname.lastname@example.org or 01 6051668