The impact of COVID-related absences on businesses is likely to be "even worse" next week once the Christmas break ends, a HR group says.
With record numbers of COVID cases being reported daily due to the Omicron variant, anyone with the virus faces ten days in isolation.
Close contacts, meanwhile, also have to restrict their movements - five days for those who've had a booster vaccine, and ten days for those who haven't.
It means tens or hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland are unable to go into work for now, leaving many employers scrambling to fill rosters.
Some businesses - particularly those that don't have the ability to return to full 'work from home' - have already been forced to close temporarily due to COVID-related staffing shortages.
Mary Connaughton, director of CIPD Ireland, told The Hard Shoulder there's a "lot of nervousness" among businesses about the impact of the current wave.
She said: “We think it’s going to be much more visible next week. There are quite a number of businesses that would actually be closed this week.
“In direct services and retail… we can see they are being impacted and are having to close when they find they haven’t got the staff to deliver a service.
"We think that’s going to get even worse next week when so many more businesses are open and are impacted by high levels of absence.”
Ms Connaughton says there are things employers can do now to prepare for any problems they may face in the coming days and weeks - including figuring out who exactly can do the most critical tasks.
She observed: “Have a look at those critical activities… the ones needed to get the product out the door and the money in.
“If the people who are doing those roles weren’t there, who else has those skills so you can fill in gaps? For example, have you someone in marketing who previously had a production role?
“You need to have a look at your skillset in the round… and then start training [people] up immediately.”
She also advised that firms should look at any temporary resources that may be available to them - such as trained people who’ve left the business, or those who are on leave but may be able to come in.
She also suggested firms should look at splitting the workforce into separate teams or ‘pods’ if possible, so one team isn’t affected by any COVID cases in the other.
However, she stressed that will depend on the ability of a business to keep those teams physically separate.
It's also worth 'auditing' a businesses COVID protocol, to ensure basics such as social distancing are being adhered to.
If all else fails, Ms Connaughton stressed that customers "will forgive" businesses that do close down temporarily.
She said: “We have a pandemic - employers need to make sure they don’t feel under pressure to come in and deliver a service, and then increase the spread of the disease.
“At all times it’s about making sure health and safety comes first.”
She encouraged firms that do have to close to make sure it's communicated properly to customers, as "honesty and transparency" is the best approach in such situations.