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Coronavirus: What employers need to know

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, it’s been impossible to escape the Coronavirus news reports.

The situation is rapidly changing and we advise that employers monitor the updates being provided by official sources such as:

All employers have an obligation and a duty to their employees to provide a safe place of work under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.  The more proactive you are as an employer, the better you will be able to deal with any eventuality.

So, what can you do with regards to the current outbreak? Here’s a list of factors employers should consider:

  • Risk assessment should be your first action. This will depend on the individual business and area of the business. Consider factors such as;
        • the size of the workforce,
        • do staff have to travel abroad as part of the business,
        • are there immuno-compromised or vulnerable staff members,
        • are they dealing with members of the public,
        • have any employees been to the affected areas.

These questions are not exhaustive and employers should tailor the Risk Assessment to their own business and the business area they work in.

  • Identify through the risk assessment any appropriate and preventative measures that can be put in place. Example measures could include;
        • limiting foreign travel,
        • limiting customer-facing contact to where necessary,
        • reducing large group meetings,
        • giving employees access to hand sanitiser and placing signs in the office about the coronavirus and the measures that can be taken to prevent its spread.
  • Employees also have a duty under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to protect the health and safety of themselves and of other people in the workplace. Ensure employees are aware of this.  They should notify their employer if they have been to an effected area or been in contact with an affected individual.
  • The HPSC has guidance on its website for workers and Public Health Advice posters are available on ie for download and display in public offices.
  • Working from home – as a precautionary measure some employers may consider asking employees to work from home as happened in Indeed when an employee had been in a risk area. Consider any staff that cannot work from home.  If an employer requires an employee to stay out of the workplace for a temporary period due to an exposure of an employee to the coronavirus employers should continue to pay effected staff members.
  • If an employee refuses to come to work due to fear of infection we recommend a measured approach is taken in advance of any disciplinary action.
  • Have a policy in place to deal with the situation where an employee has to self-isolate due to exposure to coronavirus outside of work. Will you pay the employee?
  • Any steps taken should be clearly communicated to the employees concerned. Ensure that any actions taken are reasonable and applied consistently.

About the about the author, Marc Fitzgibbon, Senior Partner, The Employment Team.