The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called on employers to pay staff as normal if they are directed on medical advice to self-isolate because of the Covid-19 virus.

In a letter to the Chief Executive of the employers' group Ibec Danny McCoy, Congress General Secretary Patricia King expressed the union view that where an employee contracts the virus, the normal condition for sick leave applies.

She goes on to state: "In cases of enforced absences i.e., where there is direction and/or medical advice for an employee to self-isolate, then normal pay should continue to be paid."

Ms King insists that this should also apply where an employee self-isolates in accordance with the up-to-date guidance of the HSE.

The Congress General Secretary says that where caring duties arise as a direct result of the Covid-19 virus and public health advice, "...such absences should be regarded as 'enforced absences' and should be remunerated accordingly".

She also indicates that other possible flexible working arrangements including working from home should be discussed at local level.

Ms King says that in relation to public servants, in particular those engaged in delivering emergency and health services, "precise arrangements will be as agreed through the normal collective bargaining procedures with the employer".

Ms King informs Ibec that she has also contacted the Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission Liam Kelly requesting that strong consideration be given to developing and agreeing a Statutory Code of Practice with stakeholders.

She concludes by saying that this would provide clarity for all concerned and avoid different employer approaches to what she calls this "serious" matter.

However, the Workplace Relations Commission said that workers who self-isolate on a precautionary basis in line with the HSE's advice on the Covid-19 virus may not be entitled to sick pay.  

The confirmation is contained in a Guidance Notice for employers and employees on dealing with the virus published today.

The WRC points out that the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 places a general duty of care on employers " ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees".

However, the legislation also obliges employees to ensure that they do not pose a threat to the safety of others in the workplace.

The WRC advises workers to follow the latest advice from the HSE and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre to protect their health. 

On the issue of sick pay, the WRC confirms that arrangements between employers and employees during periods of illness-related absence depend on the terms of the employment contract.

However, where the contract or an agreed attendance policy do not provide for sick pay, the WRC states " ...there is no statutory entitlement for an employee to be paid by their employer in the event that they are absent from work". 

Crucially, it confirms that workers may not be entitled to be paid where they self-isolate on a precautionary basis - even where this is in line with HSE or HPSC advice.

In such circumstances, the WRC urges employers and their staff to engage proactively and to be as flexible as possible to resolve any issues.

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It recommends exploring options where feasible such as remote working, arrangements to work back time lost due to absence, and taking leave to avoid employee loss of earnings.

The WRC also advises employers that where the ability of a business to provide work to its employees is impacted, an employer may put employees on a period of "layoff" - though it also notes that periods of layoff are unpaid.

The WRC Guidance Notice points out that workers on layoff may be able to avail of social welfare payments, and refers them to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection website.

If issues cannot be resolved locally, a worker can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission for possible mediation, or for investigation by an Adjudication Officer.

Meanwhile, to assist employers, the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation has also published a Business Continuity Planning Checklist of preparatory actions for dealing with Covid-19.

It outlines strategies for assessing the potential impact on the business including the possible effect of employee absences, disruption to supply chains, reviewing insurance coverage, introducing remote working and reducing unnecessary travel.

It urges employers to prepare for increased take-up of employee welfare services, to develop policies on sick and compassionate leave and to consult with employees.

It also encourages employers to examine the potential financial implications on their business, and the circumstances in which they might decide to scale back or suspend operations. 

NBRU demanding staff be paid on same basis as civil servants if forced to self-isolate

The National Bus and Rail Union has written to Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail demanding that workers be paid on the same basis as public servants if forced to self-isolate due to the Covid-19 virus.

General Secretary Dermot O'Leary notes that members have expressed concern about their situation if they have to self-isolate on the basis of HSE or other government advice.

He cites a 1976 public service circular which instructs any civil servant who has been in contact with certain infectious diseases "to absent himself from duty if, and for as long as, his doctor advises and should inform his superior officer of the position".

The 1976 circular also states: "Enforced absences on account of contact with persons suffering from infectious diseases may be treated as special leave with pay."

Mr O'Leary also says it has been brought to his attention that the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has reached an agreement with the HSE that such "forced" absences would be designated as special leave, with pay.

He concludes the correspondence calling on the three transport companies to revert with a commitment to treat staff "in a manner no less than that agreed between the INMO and the HSE".