The Government has been told to take urgent action to help cover the cost of parents remaining at home should children have to isolate after a confirmed case of Covid-19 was identified in a Dublin school.
A further 217 cases of the virus were reported yesterday — the largest daily increase since May.
It followed the revelation that a class of children at a primary school in Dublin were sent home as a precautionary measure after one child tested positive for Covid-19.
The child is not thought to have picked up the virus in the school, which reopened for the new term last Wednesday.
While family members have been directed to restrict their movements only if they have symptoms of the virus, the case has raised questions over the employment entitlements of parents and guardians who have to remain at home if their child is forced out of school.
The Government has long accepted that classes of children will be be sent home from schools following the reopenings in recent days, but has not made appropriate plans to deal with the issue, according to employment law specialist and solicitor Richard Grogan.
“Schools are just back, and nothing has been done to plan for what was certain to happen,” he told the.
Under the Parents Act, employees have a limited right to leave work in the event of a family emergency, known as 'force majeure'. However, Mr Grogan believes this will not be enough if a child is sent home to isolate for 14 days.
“The big one is that it's going to be very hard to get force majeure leave after day one, and therefore parents are going to have a situation where they are not going to be paid," he said.
There has been “zero planning” around this issue, he added.
“This is completely disjointed planning from the State on an issue it knew was going to arise,” he said, adding that we could see a situation where an “awful lot” of parents are not paid.
“It depends on how many outbreaks we have in schools," he said.
Séan O'Riordan, director of the National Parents Council Post Primary, said the case in the Dublin school was alarming.
"Parents are being put in a very difficult position," he said. "It's the total uncertainty of this."
He said that he was surprised to see that all of the children in the class were sent home, as it was his understanding that children would interact in 'pods' and a positive case would only affect children in the same pod, as opposed to the whole class.
"Also, if a group has to be isolated [in school], where can they do this? Are they isolated together or separately, and where? Of course you have young kids who can't be on their own," he said.
He added that parents may have to miss work to look after their child if they are sent home, and may be worried about sending their other children back to school.
The Labour Party and Sinn Féin have called on the Government to extend paid leave to parents when schools are closed because of an outbreak.
Labour has published a bill to provide cover for parents when their child's school or childcare provider is closed due to an outbreak of Covid-19.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said that parents or guardians should be entitled to take paid leave for the duration of the time a class is sent home, or a school is closed.
Separately, Sinn Féin has also called for an extension of paid leave for parents who are forced to take off work when their children cannot attend school.
Meanwhile, of the 217 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed yesterday, 70% are in people under 45 years of age, 51% are associated with outbreaks or are close contacts of a confirmed case, and 19 are from community transmission.
Some 103 cases were in Dublin, 25 were in Kildare, while Limerick and Tipperary had 17 each, Waterford in Wicklow had seven each, six were in Clare, and five in Louth.