Public servants will receive special leave with pay if forced to self-isolate, or if they fall ill with the Covid-19, according to an information document circulated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Periods of Covid-19 related illness or self-isolation will not count as part of an individual's sick leave record - but pay will only include basic pay and fixed allowances, with premium payments excluded. 

A circular dating from 1976 which provides for "special leave with pay" in the case of contact with a notifiable disease will apply to periods of medically or HSE-recommended self-isolation or actual diagnosis.

Today's bulletin says flexibility and alternative working arrangements like working from home are to be encouraged, as they may allow employees who are not actually ill to continue working. 

Special leave with pay will apply for the number of days advised by the HSE or a doctor - and appropriate medical/HSE confirmation of the need to self-isolate, and/or a diagnosis of Covid-19, will be required.

If staff on special leave with pay do not comply with any directions which may be given by their department, or do not take all practicable steps to resume duty as soon as possible without good reason, disciplinary measures may be invoked and "...the question of withholding pay will arise."

The bulletin stresses that these arrangements apply in the case of Covid-19 "as a notifiable infectious disease" - and do not apply, for example, to ordinary flu-like illnesses. 

If an employee self-isolating on a precautionary basis falls ill with Covid-19, the special leave with pay - rather than normal sick leave - will continue subject to medical confirmation. 

In the case of school closures, the situation of working parents should be considered on a case-by-case basis, it says, with consideration given to remote working or other alternatives. 

Public service managers are also advised to review their business continuity plans, and to ensure that all special category health data is processed legally within data protection legislation. 

Earlier the Government accepted that employees who need to self-isolate in accordance with medical advice due to the Covid-19 virus should receive income support.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this would require "flexibility and responsiveness" by employers and in State social protection schemes.

He said that following consultation with employers and trade union representatives, proposals will be considered by the Cabinet sub-committee on coronavirus next Monday.

The Government is urging all employers to be as flexible as possible with employees to explore options as the need might arise.

However, it is not yet clear whether the Government will respond to a call from employers' group Ibec for an emergency two-week welfare payment for affected workers which would apply from the first day of illness.

Officials are to meet representatives of employers and trade unions for further discussions on how best to provide assistance.

The Workplace Relations Commission, which has issued a guidance note on Covid-19 for employers and employees, is working with Government departments and other agencies on the issue.

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The Taoiseach told the Dáil that laws on public health were strong and would not need to be changed.

Leo Varadkar was speaking as the house met for the second time since the General Election.

He said the Government retains full executive authority, although the political convention is that no major policy decisions, appointments or financial allocations will be made without consulting the opposition.

But Mr Varadkar said the Dáil could legislate in the absence of the formation of a new government.

A number of members called for an all-party Oireachtas committee to be set up to deal with Covid-19.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it would be useful if a mechanism could be found to establish such a committee.

He acknowledged that public health officials are "flat out" dealing with the issue.

Mr Martin said: "I want to acknowledge that public health officials are working under incredible strain and stress and are flat out in terms of dealing with all of the implications of a public health crisis of this kind and a potential pandemic."

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said that such a committee is necessary particularly if the house is not going to sit for another two weeks.

He said there should be political underpinning on the legitimacy of any decisions on coronavirus.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the Dáil should meet again due to concerns over the virus.

He said the issue needed democratic engagement to assist the administrative process.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was not convinced that an Oireachtas committee would be the best vehicle to deal with decisions that need to be made on Covid-19.

She said the response was deficient with matters being reported in the media and this "needed to be fixed quickly".

Meanwhile, Mr Martin has said that his party has been briefed by public health officials on Covid-19.

Speaking to RTÉ News, the Fianna Fáil leader said that protecting citizens had to be at the forefront of all other considerations.

Mr Martin said that decisions would have to made in the coming days in relation to large gatherings.

He said that public health should be the number one priority and that management of the outbreak of the virus is strong.

Mr Martin said he did not think that Covid-19 should be "an issue of political contention or divide".

He said that "alongside the actual virus itself, panic can set in" and this needed to be borne in mind in terms of communication around coronavirus.

Additional reporting Sandra Hurley, Aisling Kenny & Laura Fletcher