Any close contacts of COVID-19 cases told to come into work by their employer should file a complaint with the HSA, a leading employment solicitor says.
Richard Grogan answered listeners' questions on today's Lunchtime Live, amid much uncertainty about the situation facing staff and employers alike during the current Omicron wave.
With an average five-day moving average of nearly 20,000 new cases, hundreds of thousands of people nationwide are isolating either as confirmed cases or close contacts.
It has left many businesses in a difficult position - some are working on reduced rosters, while others have had to close temporarily until staff can return.
What happens if you're close a contact?
Richard Grogan says much of the official advice is guidelines rather than firm rules.
However, he said: "If an employer says to you you’re to come to work and you’re a close contact… you shouldn’t. End of story - that’s the HSE guideline, and really people should follow those.
“I’d go onto the HSA site and I’d put in a complaint.”
He said you should then tell the employer that you’ve made that complaint - that will protect you "against any detriment or threat of a detriment".
What about antigen test results?
Richard said any employer who asks a worker with a positive antigen test to come in is putting both staff and anyone who interacts with them at risk.
He said: “If an employer tells somebody who has a positive antigen test to come to work, that’s just opening up a whole litany of litigation if someone else in that workplace catches COVID. That’s completely negligent by the employer.
“Those employers need to be called out for doing that - it’s not only putting staff at risk but those who are coming into the place at risk as well.”
He stressed it's not just employees uncertain about the rules, and that many employers are "completely at sea" in the current situation.
Can an employer ask for proof of illness?
Richard said that employers can ask for proof of illness if they’re going to be paying out sick pay.
That may either be proof of a positive COVID-19 result (e.g. a HSE text message) or a note from a doctor.
What's the situation with the enhanced illness benefit?
An enhanced State benefit of €350 per week is available for those who are unable to work due to the virus.
However, Richard said he's hearing many concerns around delays in the Department of Social Protection arranging that payment.
He said: “That’s one of the reasons why some people who are close contacts or actually have a positive test are going to work - they need a wage at the end of the week.
“The Government has got to get the finger out and get these payments out very quickly."
Current rules state anyone applying for the benefit needs to show either a message or letter from the HSE telling someone to isolate, proof of diagnosis, or a photo/screenshot of the text message from the HSE confirming application for an antigen test kit.
Richard also said employers don't have to offer a top-up payment for any staff receiving the benefit, although some will do so.
He added that employers should not blame workers who get COVID-19, as “nobody is going out looking for it”.
You can listen to Richard's full Q&A with Lunchtime Live here: https://www.goloudplayer.com/episodes/employee-covid-19-rights-aHR0cHM6Ly9jZG4ucmFkaW9jbXMubmV0L3JhZGlvLWNtcy91cGxvYWRzLzIwMjIvMDEvMDUxNDQ3MzkvMDUwMS1SaWNoYXJkLUdyb2dhbi53YXY=