An employment expert is calling for “really strong” national guidance on leave for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Newstalk Breakfast with Eamon Torsney this morning, Michael Doherty, Professor in Employment Law at Maynooth University said more than half of Ireland’s private sector workers are not offered sick pay by the employers.
He said the Government’s COVID-19 sick pay scheme offers some level of support; however, people are only entitled to it if they are diagnosed with the virus or directed to self-isolate.
“This is where it gets tricky because, if I wake up and I don’t feel well, the public health advice is, if you feel anything at all, don’t go to work,” he said.
“But if I ring my GP and I am told that I might be OK or might need a test or something, that is a grey area because you have not been diagnosed and you have not been told to self-isolate so you may not be entitled to compensation from the your employer or the State.”
He said the amount on offer from the State is “not very high” and many people may need to pay for a GP consultation to get a call with a doctor.
“So, there are all sorts of disincentives for people to follow through on something and of course the big thing looming is the schools going back in a couple of weeks,” he said.
“What if I wake up and I want to go to work but my son wakes up and maybe he has a cough or a sniffle or something?
“Most people would err on the side of caution so I would have to ring my employer and say I don’t know if he is well enough to go to school. It could be even worse in that he goes to school and the school sends him back so, again as the employee and the employer, it is a very uncertain area.”
Professor Doherty said it is now time for the Government to put in place “really strong guidance for employers and employees in this situation.”
He also said small businesses to put in place an agreed system so they are not caught out with an employee who is suddenly unable to come in.
“I know it sounds less important than trying to open the doors and get on with it but businesses really need to think about what they can manage,” he said.
“Can you rearrange people’s holidays? Can you rearranged shifts? Are there ways this can be managed on a relatively short-term basis? You need to engage with the workforce in deciding what to do.”
He said the country may also be facing a looming a redundancy crisis as many businesses who temporarily let people go because of the outbreak may not be in a position to welcome them back.
“People who have been laid off, whose employers have closed or reduced staffing, in many cases those people have not been made redundant,” he said.
“They have been on some form of extended lay-off but we are about four or five months into this now and that can’t go on indefinitely so at some point the employer may have to say look we can’t keep going with this.
“It is a redundancy situation and unfortunately statutory redundancy may be the best option for many people. The Government has tried to avoid that by putting in supports but the longer this goes on, the more difficult that becomes.”