This is a guidance note and does not impart legal advice and in view of constant developments answers may need to be updated.
As an employer, do I have any obligations?
The simple answer to this question is yes. As employers you must bear in mind your obligations to your employees under Health and Safety legislation as well as laws dealing with equality, in order to protect the health, safety and well-being of your employees. You have a duty of care and we can assist you in providing detailed guidance.
What can we do to show that I am fulfilling my duty of care?
There are a number of things you can do, for example, making sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic, displaying posters promoting hand-washing, communicating and promoting the message that people need to stay at home if they have been to certain countries and even if they have just mild symptoms of COVID-19. The best way to do this is to have in place a COVID-19 Workplace Policy.
What is a COVID-19 Workplace Policy?
This policy amongst other things includes the duty of care of the employer and employee, data protection and confidentiality clauses, sick leave procedure for this period, home working (if applicable) and more, depending on your needs. It will clearly outline how you as an employer are handling this situation, hence adequately displaying your duty of care as clearly stipulated in the law. Whatever is stated in the policy should reflect what you are actually implementing at the workplace, and will serve to make things clearer – in these difficult times, employees need guidance.
What leave entitlements should we grant during this period?
There may be different scenarios depending on your industry or work ethic, and not all employers are handling entitlements in the same way. It’s always best to seek professional guidance.
- If an employee develops coronavirus symptoms and as a result self-isolates, they would be considered sick and would therefore be entitled to the appropriate sick leave. Sick leave entitlement applies as per law and you would need to see if you fall under a particular Wage Regulation Order or if there is a collective agreement. If so, the entitlement needs to be in line with this.
- If an employee needs to stay home because schools are now closed, there are various options:
- Vacation leave (subject to your approval)
- Parental leave (this is unpaid, and please remember there is the Parental Leave Entitlement #Regulations (SL 452.78) to follow)
- Unpaid leave (subject to you agreeing to it)
- Working from home
If work has slowed down what can we do?
Vacation leave is by mutual agreement so employee may not agree to this but the Annual leave regulations regulates for forced leave.
If I want to impose forced leave what do I need to do?
Should employees be made to avail themselves of forced leave, you shall always provide a written statement justifying the forced leave, within a reasonable time frame before the forced leave starts to run. In such instances the utilization of such forced leave does not give rise to a civil debt in favour of the employer should the leave taken exceed the annual leave entitlement of the employee.
If I agree for employees to work from home, what is the best thing to do?
It would be best to set the terms and conditions of this in writing, and it would be advisable to have in place a Working from Home Policy, or to include the relevant terms in your COVID-19 Workplace Policy.