SFA Fortnightly Update

Dear Member, 


Welcome to this edition of the SFA e-zine.


This evening Government will publish their revised Living with Covid-19 Plan. We will carefully review it and get back to you in relation to the sections that are relevant to the small business community. The plan will be published here this evening.


If you attended Business Connect on 11 February, we ask that you please take a few moments to fill out the feedback form here so that we may get a better understanding of what you value and are looking for in future SFA events.


Last week we heard the devastating news that Ulster Bank is to exit the Irish market; read our reaction to this and their advice for small business customers.


This week we look at a case made under the Protected Disclosure Act 2014, where a complainant was subject to unlawful dismissal or penalisation for having made a protected disclosure. You can also read the SFA’s submission to the review of the National Development Plan.


The pandemic has prompted the mobilisation of “digital” across the Irish economy and society as businesses, services, and community groups register highest ever number of .ie domains; read the .IE report here.


We would also like to remind members to prepare for the ending of the reduced VAT rate on 28 February.


Book on to some of the upcoming SFA Skillnet Masterclasses and Workshops here, and check out our most recent press coverage.


As always, we’d love to hear from you about any queries you may have, issues you wish to have raised with Government or other stakeholders and your ideas on how we can improve the business environment for us all. Please contact me on tel: 01 605 1602 or e-mail: sven@sfa.ie or tweet: @SFA_Irl or visit our website.


Kind regards, 

Sven Spollen-Behrens

SFA Director


SFA in the media
  • Covid-19 Business Aid Scheme
  • Ulster Bank
  • SFA Awards

Covid-19 Business Aid Scheme

SFA Director, Sven Spollen-Behrens was mentioned on RTE  and Mayo Advertiser welcoming the Government's latest support measures. 


Ulster Bank

Graham Bryne, SFA Chairman and CEO of Flender, was on RTE 6 one news on 19 February and featured in the Law Society Gazette and Fleet Transport responding to the Ulster Bank announcement of a phased withdrawal from the Republic of Ireland.

SFA Awards

The Longford Leader highlights two Longford business, N & E Precision Engineering and John Stone Fine Foods,  that are Finalists in the SFA National Small Business Awards 2021.

Workplace Investigations during Covid-19

How can companies manage investigations, grievances or disciplinaries during Covid-19 remotely or in the workplace with protective measures...

The sudden and unprecedented shift to remote work has resulted in many varied challenges for employers amid the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown has meant that many internal investigations have been either disrupted or parked pending a return to normal. As employers begin to come to grips with the most pressing of challenges, those employers who can, are now attempting to return to “business as usual” including workplace investigations/disciplinaries. Notably, businesses need to proceed and conduct workplace investigations in some shape or form, whether it be remotely or socially distanced in the workplace to avoid a deterioration of the situation for both the employee/s and company. Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all solution to this challenge. Below we set out some of the primary considerations which businesses should bear in mind.


1. Preliminary considerations  
A company should always adhere to the relevant policy from which the investigation is based. Any employer seeking to continue or commence an investigation must first review the company policy. While very few company policies will directly address the running of investigations remotely, companies will need to ensure that the fundamental requirements of relevant workplace policies are adhered to.


Employers considering carrying out a workplace investigation remotely must also ensure that they can do so in compliance with the provisions of SI 146/2000 (Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Investigations). In particular:  

  • The matter must be fairly examined and processed  
  • Details of any allegations must be put in writing to the employee concerned  
  • The employee must be given the opportunity to respond fully to the allegations 
  • The employee should be allowed to question witnesses 
  • The employee must be given the opportunity to avail of the right to be represented 
  • The employee must be given a fair and impartial determination,  

The best course of action will vary from company to company and will, in particular, depend on:  

  • The type of workplace investigation involved  
  • The stage of the process   
  • Whether employees are on lay off or working remotely 
  • The IT capacities of the employer and relevant employees   
  • The provisions of relevant company policies  

2. Options for employers   
Subject to the terms of relevant company policies, employers wishing to carry out workplace investigations remotely may consider one or more of the following options:  

  • Suspend the process for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Continue the process by written letters to the employee/s  
  • Continue the process by telephone  
  • Continue the process by video conference   

It is likely that where a company proceeds to carry out a process remotely, some combination of these approaches will be required.


3. Communication    
Given the exceptional circumstances and the likely departure from standard practice, it is crucial for employers to properly engage and communicate clearly with parties regarding the procedure. Employers should ensure any concerns are addressed to ensure full engagement and co-operation in the investigation.  


4. Other considerations   
Varied challenges are likely to arise as employers navigate the running of remote workplace investigations. Practical and/or technological difficulties associated with running a smooth meeting may arise. Employers will, therefore, need to be flexible and facilitative throughout.


There will be some investigations for which remote processes may not be appropriate or possible at all, whether by reason of the IT capacities of the employees or the subject matter of the investigation. However, a failure to act in any way because of the pandemic, will not suffice where remote investigations are possible. It will prevent an employer from being able to rely on defence that they took action to prevent or reverse the effects of discrimination or bullying for example.


If you have any concerns about workplace investigations and/or how to conduct them remotely, you can access the SFA’s guide on how to conduct investigations or contact Emma  Emma.crowley@sfa.ie  / 01 6051668  


Unfair Dismissal Award following the making of a Protected Disclosure

Read about a case where a complainant was subject to unlawful dismissal or penalisation for having made a protected disclosure...

In this case an installation engineer was dismissed by a communications provider shortly after he made a protected disclosure to the company’s managing director. Following six months of employment, he refused to use equipment because he deemed it unsafe, as it had not been serviced in a few years. This issue was escalated to HR, consequently, he was dismissed an hour later without a fair disciplinary hearing


He pursued the matter at the WRC under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1997-2015, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and the Industrial Relations Acts. Normally, under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1997-2015 the employee must have one years’ continuous service. However, the one years’ service rule does not apply for a dismissal related to making a protected disclosure, as defined in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.

In addition, in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, it allows for compensation of up to 5 years pay for penalisation for having made a protected disclosure, instead of the normal 2 years. The employer maintained the engineer was dismissed because of his aggressive and unreasonable pursuit of a pay increase on multiple occasions and due to the allegedly aggressive way he dealt with staff and his manager. The company acknowledged the engineer raised health and safety issues but noted that he did not follow the company procedure on whistleblowing from the company handbook and that he failed to bring his concerns to the attention of the MD. 


In practice, employers must investigate any complaint/grievance raised by an employee. If the information disclosed is that which the employee reasonably believes shows a relevant wrongdoing, it may amount to a protected disclosure and should be treated as such.


WRC Adjudication Officer Decision  
The WRC Adjudication Officer found the respondent’s evidence that the complainant was dismissed because of his attitude and behaviour to “lack credibility”, yet there was little direct evidence to support the allegations of inappropriate behaviour. He was awarded €20,000 in compensation. 


Employers must take care when initiating disciplinary measures following an employee making a protected disclosure. An employee who has made a protected disclosure can claim penalisation if the employer initiates disciplinary proceedings against them or makes a management decision which is perceived by the employee to have negative implications for them. There must be no connection between a protected disclosure and a disciplinary process made by the employee. Any connection will be deemed penalisation of the employee for having made a protected disclosure and would be unlawful. Nevertheless, if an employee has made a protected disclosure, this does not suggest that the employee can is immune from any disciplinary action or other management decision. 


If you have concerns about Protected Disclosures and would like further advice, please contact Emma at SFA on 01 605 1668 or at emma.crowley@sfa.ie  

Ulster Bank exit from Irish banking market

Ulster Bank exit further blow for small firms lending…

Responding to Ulster Bank’s announcement of a phased withdrawal from the Republic of Ireland over the coming years, SFA Chair Graham Byrne said: “It is devastating news to hear that Ulster Bank, a pillar bank that has been in business servicing the small business community for 156 years, is exiting the Irish market. This decision is not just bad news for the Irish banking sector but for the dedicated staff and customers who will be directly affected. 


“This announcement is a further blow for Irish small business and entrepreneurs accessing Irish banks. There has been unprecedented contraction since the credit crisis of 2009, which saw the flight or closure of multiple business banks and non-banks. This was not addressed in the past decade and further compounds the lack of competition in business banking. Given the exceptional challenges that both the pandemic and Brexit have created, Ulster Bank’s departure, while phased, will play a significant factor in a slower rebound for indigenous small business."


“SFA urge the Government to focus on attracting new bank and non-banking activity into Ireland to fill the gap that this will leave. Boosting finance providers for all small business will deliver greater options, better products and innovated solutions which will allow small firms to drive the recovery phase of this crisis by creating jobs and growth,” concluded Byrne. 


Ulster bank have confirmed to the SFA that they remain open for all new business applications and have also confirmed to their customers that they are not required to take any action as a result of last Friday’s announcement. A customer FAQs on what this announcement means is available here.


Ulster bank have assured us that they are committed to working with customers, their industry partners and the communities in which they operate to ensure this transition is as seamless as possible. If you have any questions or queries, please contact elizabeth.bowen@sfa.ie and she will assist you in reaching out to SFA’s contact in Ulster Bank’s Commercial Banking unit.  

Review to Renew the National Development Plan

SFA calls for better procurement practices to deliver NDP...

Under the Programme for Government the coalition partners agreed to review and update the National Development Plan (NDP) to ensure that it delivers economic, social, environmental and cultural development all across the country. 


The SFA acknowledges that since the launch of the NDP less than three years ago, a number of factors, including the twin crises of Brexit and Covid, have significantly changed the policy landscape in the intervening period. Therefore, in terms of the Review of the NDP, the overarching priority for the small business community is that development will continue to take place in a planned way, focused on the factors that can rebuild and boost Ireland’s competitiveness and backed up with the necessary capital investment.  


SFA’s submission focused on the need to adopt a better approach all round to procurement to assist the small business community within Ireland and the single market, not just buyers, to deliver the development priorities set out in the NDP.   


SFA recommend: 

  • To raise the number of small firms delivering the NDP, each category council should have a designated SME lead, when conducting market analysis and designing appropriate purchasing approach.   
  • To overcome barriers around engagement with small businesses and entrepreneurs, more needs to be done to involve them in the design of goods and services and holding ‘meet the buyer’ events before the start of a formal procurement exercise. Through this, opportunities should arise where contracting authorities can access innovative products and services that will help meet their circular public procurement goals.   
  • LEOs should provide training on how to bid for procurement opportunities in coordination with the formal procurement process of National Development Plan infrastructure projects.   
  • To succeed in green public procurement, there is a need to raise awareness and competence among small suppliers and their supply chains.   
  • The Government must continue their commitment to professionalise the procurement function within the public sector through training and upskilling, particularly in terms of advancing the SME agenda.   
  • To achieve innovation and meet circular procurement requirements government must counter the continued perception around emphasis still being placed on lowest price over value for money when awarding contracts to a tenderer.   
  • Develop a national e-Procurement strategy for the public sector, which is linked to the national eGovernment strategy.   
  • Every public body or state agency involved in delivering the NDP should have a visible “doing business with us” button on their home page, which clearly shows how goods, services and works are procured (e.g. directly, via Framework Agreements etc). This would allow business to tailor their sales strategies.   
  • Competitiveness must be maintained as rising business costs including increasing insurance costs in the construction sector is becoming a threat to small firms bidding for public procurement contracts.  
New 2020 .IE Domain Profile Report

Read the .IE report on how businesses, services, and community groups register highest ever number of .ie domains...

According to the recently published “2020.IE Domain Profile Report”, new .ie domain registrations peaked in May of last year, 6 weeks after the closure of nonessential retail. Other findings of the report include:  

  • 65,113 new .ie domains registered in 2020, the highest increase since the inception of the Irish domain registry  
  • New .ie domain registrations increased year-on-year in every county in Ireland for the first time ever  
  • Pandemic and health-related keywords common in new .ie web addresses: uses of “mental health” and “counselling” increased 105% year-on-year  
  • General health-related keywords, such as “doctor”, “pharmacy”, and “fitness”, increased 92% year-on-year 
  • 315 .ie domains containing the word “mask” or “facemask” were registered in 2020 compared to just 6 in 2019; 61 containing the word “remote” (e.g. remote work) were registered in 2020 compared to 5 in 2019.  

The Central Bank of Ireland now recognises new .ie registrations as a forward indicator of economic health. While new company start-ups fell in 2020 because of the pandemic, this report indicates that entrepreneurs and new businesses are taking a digital-first approach and ensuring they secure their preferred online identity with a .ie domain before they register their company. A local .ie web address has therefore been a lifeline, a way to mitigate the worst effects of the physical lockdown. It has advantageously positioned many businesses for a more digitally integrated post-Covid-19 economy.


Read the 2020 .IE Domain Profile Report in full.  

Thinking Ahead: A Better Workday
  • Thursday 4 March

  • Thursday, 4 March 11.30am

These times of uncertainty are undeniably having a significant impact on our day to day lives and ways of working. Trying to adapt to the changes and new pressures can increase feelings of stress as we struggle to find the right balance between work and all the other things we do. There is no such thing as a perfect workday, however one could experience a significant improvement in their everyday lives by making one small change. Niamh Brady, of Niamh Brady Productivity Coaching and Head of Data Operations in Poppulo explores what small changes can be made to support our overall wellbeing.


Business owners and HR executives will leave the session inspired with ways to dial down the pressure and adapt more easily to the way things are.


Thinking Ahead is a monthly webinar series brought to you by the SFA and supported by Flogas. If offers small businesses access to expert information and advice from their office or home.


Register now.

Ireland's 24 Hour Economy
  • 11 March

  • Thurs, 11 March, 11:00am - 1:00pm

SFA in partnership with Ibec is holding a seminar on the night-time economy.

The recently launched Programme for Government seeks to develop innovative approaches to create a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable night-time economy in Ireland. The recognition by the coalition Government that the night-time economy in our towns and cities is an opportunity for economic and social development should spur all businesses to explore and exploit avenues within this sector of the economy.

As we rebuild from the damaging economic effects of rolling Covid restrictions and closures now is the time for businesses operating or servicing the night-time economy to define the supports, regulatory changes and infrastructure investment needed to ensure the economic wellbeing of businesses open between 6pm and 6am.

Delegates will hear about international initiatives fostering the night-time economy, gain insights on the economic contribution of this sector and hear from businesses operating and servicing the night-time economy. Delegates will also be able to share their views and opinions on the future of Ireland’s night-time economy.

If you are in the experience economy, cultural and leisure activities, cleaning, transport, or health and personal services this event is not tome missed.

Register here.

For further information please contact elizabeth.bowen@sfa.ie.

Read SFA Better Business magazine’s latest article “Rewrite the Night” examining the importance of the night-time economy.

FHM Business Coaching Workshop: 4 Ways to Improve Your Business
  • 16 March

  • Tues, 16 March 11:00am - 12:00pm

A top business coach from FHM Business Coaching will help you to achieve business success, just like a top personal trainer will help you to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

In this fantastic 60 Minute seminar you will how to:

  • Analyse your business and identify how a small 5% improvement in 3 key areas can double your profits quicker than you ever thought possible;
  • Review every point of interaction between your business and your existing and potential customers to maximise conversion and repeat business;
  • Identify an area of your business for improvement that is unique to your business and you will leave the seminar with an action plan and a commitment to make that improvement in the next 7 days;
  • Better manage your time by reviewing the 4 areas in which you currently spend your time and how only 2 of these are productive - the other 2 are holding you back.

This is a stand-alone seminar designed to deliver real value to every participant.

FHM Business Coaching’s unique approach to helping business owners is like a business education, coaching, networking, mentoring & consulting hybrid that follows a proven philosophy and process that has been tested and refined over many years.


Register for this free event today.

SFA Skillnet Ireland Masterclasses & Workshops

Book on to these SFA Skillnet Ireland Masterclasses and Workshops...

The following Masterclasses and Workshops are available through Skillnet Ireland. There are a number of places available first come, first served. These Workshops and Masterclasses are a sneak peek at the many innovative sessions that are running as part of the MentorsWork programme. Please see our website for more information or to apply.

Alternatively, if you would like to attend any of the individual sessions listed below, please register by filling in this short form with your details and we will be in touch.


Don't forget to apply to the free 8-week business support programme, MentorsWork. The focus of this phase of the programme is to help small businesses get through the third lockdown, and it is completely free to apply, so make sure to fill out the short application form here if you are a private sector businesses that employ between 3-250 people.


Masterclass | Responding to Business Risks in Times of Uncertainty                

  • Wed 3 March 1.00pm - 2.00pm                              

Understand how to identify the tangible risks in your business, and how to assess, and respond to those risks in the current climate (including Covid-19 and Brexit). This interactive, concept-driven masterclass will enable you to evaluate the impact of external and internal risk to your business and provide practical tips and recommendations on how to mitigate risk.


Workshop | Accelerate Your Growth – Develop Your Export Potential

  • Thurs 4 March 10.30am - 12.30pm

Grow your business in 2021 and beyond by finding out how to develop the export potential of your business. We will help you explore the option of growing your business through exporting whether you are currently exporting or not. Learn where to begin and how to strategically develop an export plan and find out what supports are available.