By Eamon Quinn
Storm Emma, snow blizzards, and the Government’s Status Red warnings may hasten a rethink in Irish company employment practices because of the frequency of the disruptions to business, a leading employment law expert has said.
Fleur O’Shea, associate in the employment law division at Byrne Wallace, said the new Status Red warnings raised new issues that firms will have to take into account in drawing up contracts and work policies that may help employers and employees avoid potential disputes.
Storm Ophelia in October was the first time in recent times that issues of disruption arose and businesses are learning as they go along and a system to communicate quickly with employees out of hours should be considered.
She said the risks of liability to businesses had been raised slightly by the warnings in recent days by the National Emergency Co-ordination Group and by the Taoiseach for people to be and stay at home but she believed that a court under most circumstances would not decide against a business for an employee injured on the way to work.
Ms O’Shea said businesses running frontline services should consider the minimum level of staff required to run the business and then work out how to accommodate staff after work.
“The weather was bad, it was not safe for driving. It is very important if you bring people into work you have to consider a way to make arrangements after shifts,” she said.“You can cover any scenario in a [work] policy.
"They have not arisen until recent times, maybe it is the new system of warnings. If it is going to arise on a more regular basis then it is something that employers may consider covering in a policy,” she said.
“On pay for disruptions, we have not had a huge amount of inquiries about it. I think that employers are getting on with it and deciding to pay. There is no entitlement, depending on the contract, when the employee can’t turn up to work and the employee has no right to demand payment and the employer does not need to pay,” she said.
On the issue of liability, Ms O’Shea said the existence of a Status Red warning of itself would not be enough for a court to apportion liability should something happen to an employee en route to work.
It would have to involve a situation where an employer is telling an employee that there is a high degree of risk and the threat was much higher than that of non-payment and involved a threat of dismissal.
“It is not enough to say there is Red Status warning in place,” Ms O’Shea said.