Coronavirus Q&A: What are your rights as an employee in the case of an outbreak?

Many people are concerned about their work entitlements in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Irish Examiner spoke to Richard Grogan, employment law specialist, and the Department of Social Protection to try to answer some of these questions.

Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

What happens if someone is diagnosed with Covid-19 and requires time off work?

The Department of Social Protection said: “Where an employee is diagnosed as being ill with Covid-19, normal workplace arrangements in respect of sick-absence should apply.”

Employees can apply for Illness Benefit from the department, subject to means-testing.

Mr Grogan said it all depends on contracts and staff handbooks. If there is no provision for sick pay, there is no right to be paid.

What if the HSE has told someone to self-isolate? Do they lose out on wages?

A department spokesperson said: “An employee who is advised or directed by a registered medical practitioner to self-isolate on the basis that they are a probable source of Covid-19 infection can, if their employer ceases to pay their wages, apply for income support from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

“A person who self-isolates in accordance with the up-to-date guidelines from the HSE, but does not have a medical certificate from a medical practitioner, may apply for income support in the form of supplementary welfare allowance.”

My employer has told me to take some time off as a precaution. Will I be paid?

Any person who is not advised to self-isolate but is requested to take time off by their employer as a precaution can, in situations where the employer cannot continue to pay wages, apply for Jobseeker Payment.

Where do employers stand?

It’s a matter of health and safety, Mr Grogan said.

“They have to make sure they don’t put employees at risk,” he said. “It’s a matter of common sense.”

I have to travel for work, but I don’t feel safe. What should I do?

This depends on the travel guidelines issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

For example, the department is currently advising the avoidance of all non-essential travel to China. It would be “extremely foolish” to expect an employee to travel to such an area as a result, Mr Grogan said.

“However, if there is no identified risk, there is no reason not to go,” he said. “If, for example, an employee was required to go to Sardinia in southern Italy, there have been no issues there, so there is no reason not to go.”

I have heard a lot about working from home but that isn’t an option for me. What should I do?

The reality is that the majority of workers are not in a position to work from home. It shouldn’t be viewed as a viable solution for many people, Mr Grogan said.

Someone I know has been diagnosed with Covid-19 and I need to take time off to care for them. Will I still be paid?

There are several options here, according to the Department of Social Protection. These include compassionate leave, altered shift patterns, and bringing forward annual leave, as well as force majeure leave, where someone is urgently required to attend to the needs of a person who is affected by illness or injury “including an actual or probable case of Covid-19”.

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