‘Lay off, Short-time, Redundancy’
If Covid-19 has seriously disrupted your business you may be faced with reducing working hours or numbers employed.
The options are lay-off or short-time or as a last resort redundancy.
What is lay-off?
When the disruption to your business is expected to be temporary, employees may be ‘laid-off’ until restrictions are lifted or trading conditions improve.
The lay-off is a temporary suspension of the employment contract during which an employee does no work and more importantly receives no payment from the employer.
The employer has no right in law to lay-off employees unless this is provided for in the contract of employment.
What is short-time?
Short-time working is defined under the Redundancy Payments Acts:
- where an employee’s working week decreases to less than half of his/her normal weekly hours or his/her pay is less than half of his/her normal take home pay; and the situation is not considered to be permanent and advance notice is given.
The general pattern of short-time working is ‘three day week’ where employees work on three days and claim social welfare on the other two.
Right to redundancy payments!
Lay-off and short-time are temporary arrangements, so employers should be aware that if either the lay-off or short-time working lasts for a certain length of time, the employee may be entitled to demand a redundancy payment.
If the employee has been laid off or kept on short-time (or a combination of both) for four consecutive weeks or at least six weeks in 13 week period, then the employee can make a claim to be made redundant.
The employer may pay the redundancy lump sum or issue ‘counter notice’ within seven days. By issuing a counter notice the employer promises that within four weeks the employee will be returned to work for a period of at least 13 consecutive weeks.
If this does not happen, the employee is entitled to claim statutory redundancy but is not entitled to a notice payment, as they are deemed to have terminated the employment contract.
HR Contingency Planning
The government has taken a number of very bold steps to sustain economic activity and support businesses and employees.
Employers are responding with a range of flexible and innovative measures to keep their businesses alive – reconfiguring the workplace to maintain social distancing; limiting face to face contact with the public; facilitating working from home.
Many of the measures introduced in response to the crisis will have a lasting impact on how businesses are organised and managed into the future.
Businesses should prepare operating plans which are flexible and sustainable – include closing remote locations and making alternative arrangements to provide for key staff members falling ill:
- Update staffing plans and rostering arrangements
- Identifying ‘at risk’ employees – pregnancy, immunosuppressed people
- Update contact details and communication links outside the office
- Consider holidays, family friendly leave and unpaid leave
Workplace – social distancing
Reconfigure the workplace to reduce close contact in the workplace and limit face to face contact with the public:
- Allow staff to work from home and avoid public transport
- Close remote locations
- Re-organise open plan areas to facilitate social distancing
- Introduce flexible working and staggered break times
To facilitate social distancing and protect ‘at risk’ employees many employers have introduced home working.
Ensure that employees have access to office systems – check network, equipment, communications and security arrangements.
Where working from home is not possible, employees have been facilitated by reduced working hours and time-off to facilitate childcare arrangements.
The government have introduced a number of direct payments and financial supports:
- The COVID 19 Wage Subsidy Scheme administered by the Revenue Commissioners
- The COVID 19 Pandemic Unemployment Benefit is available to employees and self-employed administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
- Business Continuity Voucher (up to €2,500) administered by the Local Enterprise Offices
Home working – will it work for your business?
Covid 19 has forced many businesses to consider the possibility of allowing employees to work from home.
The government announced the temporary closure of all businesses to 5th May 2020 – with the exception of ‘essential services’.
Employers have been advised that where possible employees should be facilitated to work from home. The impact of this temporary measure may cause employers and employees to re-evaluate future working arrangements – will you trust people to manage their working time? Will you need all that office space in future? should you develop a hybrid model / office + home?
How practical it is for the job to be done from home – consider the following questions:
What supports need to be provided to homeworkers?
What equipment & technology is needed – broadband connection access to server, VPN software?
Is your employee data accurate and up to date?
Can duties be carried out with the same efficiency as the usual place of work?
What additional demands will home-working put on employees?
How will you communicate with the home-worker, how will they communicate with co-workers, what days / hours should they be available?
How will output / productivity be measured?
How will you safe guard confidentiality, security and compliance with data protection regulations?
Take steps to establish lines of communication which connect your work force. Many people are used to working in a shared environment and may find remote working a challenge and potentially demotivating – daily team meetings, support call with manager, regular access to colleagues can be helpful counter-measures.
Consider legal implications:
- Changes to the contract of employment
- Definition of working time / break times
- Health and safety issues
Vincent Turley April 2020
Brexit means Brexit
The new UK Prime Minister, Teresa May, has made it clear that although she did not vote to leave, that there will be no attempt to remain inside the EU or to return by some backdoor mechanism, like a second referendum.
So the only question to be answered is what kind of divorce will it be?
The answer to this question will depend on the extent to which the negotiations can achieve a balance between the value to the UK of access to the single market versus the pressure to control immigration.
The biggest issue to be sorted out is how trade will be managed between UK and EU – so what are the options:
- ‘Hard’ exit – UK does not participate in the single market and relies on the World Trade Organisation rules for trading with EU or negotiates a completely new bilateral trade deal with EU.
- ‘Soft’ exit – UK joins the European Economic Area (EEA) which is made up of EU member states plus Norway, Iceland & Liechtenstein. EEA provides for free movement of goods, services, capital and people; however, participation in the single market comes at a financial cost and requires free movement of people, two of the main arguments for leaving the EU.
The Brexiteers would probably have a preference for the Swiss model – UK joins the European Free Trade Association (EFTA); access to the EU market is governed by a series of bilateral trade agreements by economic sector. Switzerland is excluded from certain sectors, most notable Financial Services.
Post Brexit – taking back control
Under the ‘freedom of movement ‘ principle EU citizens had the right to work in any member state and access social services, healthcare and education in the same way as citizens of the host country.
There are an estimated 3 million EU citizens in the UK and 1 million UK citizens in the EU. The opening position of both sides to the Brexit negotiations is that the status and rights of these groups must be protected.
EU citizens now make up 10% of the UK workforce, with a much higher percentage in the NHS, construction, food manufacture, agriculture and hospitality.
In the white paper published in February 2017, the Conservative Government declared that it will ‘take back control of inward migration from the EU’. It has set an extremely challenging target – to reduce immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ per year – the white paper identified immigration in 2016 = 363,000.
To achieve a reduction in immigration the UK Government will have to consider:
- The status of the 3 million EU citizens in the UK
- Future systems for the control of immigration the EU
- How the new regime will be enforced particularly at the external borders
Common Travel Area (CTA) Employers, workers, citizens beware!
The CTA is a special arrangement which allows free movement of people between the UK and Ireland which is extremely important in the daily lives of citizens, particularly in the border region:
- 30,000 people commute to work across the border
- 841 flights per week between Dublin and London the busiest route in Europe
The CTA is not just about travel, it provides reciprocal rights for the citizens of the UK and Ireland:
- unrestricted access to employment and social welfare;
- access to healthcare and education;
- the right to vote in local, national elections.
The special arrangement dates back to 1922 to an agreement between the British Government and the new Irish Free State.
The status of Irish citizens in the UK was formalised by the ‘Ireland Act 1949’ which states that “Ireland is not a foreign country for the purpose of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom”.
The Irish government responded with ‘Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (Irish Citizenship Rights) Order 1949’ which provided that UK citizens enjoy the same rights in Ireland as Irish citizens in the UK.
Harassment and Bullying – the majority of incidents are not reported!
image copyright: change.org
Harassment and Bullying has many underlying causes – abuse of management power; personality clashes; discrimination.
The majority of incidents of harassment or bullying are not put on the record. Employees may fear the consequence of reporting a supervisor or manager. Colleagues may be reluctant to come forward as witnesses as they fear the consequences for themselves.
In a recent workplace investigation into a serious incident 15 employees were interviewed;
– 5 reported being subjected to bullying and abusive behaviour;
– 5 reported witnessing abusive behaviour in the past 12 months.
The investigation uncovered a culture which was characterised by lack of co-operation, lack of respect for individuals, failure to accept responsibility, and abusive behaviour.
Social Media – dos and don’ts
The best approach is for an employer to make it clear to employees what conduct online is acceptable, and what is not. The employer should include social networking in its discipline policy; giving clear examples of what will be regarded as gross misconduct – for example, posting derogatory or offensive comments on the internet about the company or a work colleague.There can be confusion over what is acceptable use of social media, some employees can see it as a platform for free speech and believe they should be able to say what they want.
Employers may be keen for employees to promote the organisation’s brand on social media, but not at the cost of making unwelcome posts.
Employers should make it clear when employees will be seen as representing the company and what personal views they can express – employees may be forbidden from expressing political views.
Employees may be required to use a disclaimer on any blogs, comments on social networking sites or tweets – include a statement that the views expressed are their own and do not represent the employer’s view.
Staff should be made aware that the use of social media will be monitored and where abuse is uncovered action may be taken under the disciplinary procedure.
Social media – the dilemma for employers!
The impact of social media is blurring the distinction between work and personal life, with most people always connected whether at home or at work.
Employers may be concerned that some employees use company computers and smart phones for sending emails to friends, accessing social network sites, or even shopping online.
Monitoring employees’ use of social media might seem reasonable but it may infringe an individual’s right to privacy. Employees have a legitimate expectation of personal privacy which is not overridden by the fact that the phone, laptop, or tablet may be provided by the employer.
However, the right to privacy may be balanced with the interests of the employer:
- To prevent abuse of social networking sites, e-mail or text;
- To protect their business and reputation;
- To prevent cases of cyber bullying in the workplace.
“The UK’s choice is between a hard Brexit and no Brexit and it is only a no Brexit that can give us the border we have now.”
Phil Hogan EU Agricultural Commissioner
These comments from the commissioner to Irish TD’s and senators may state the obvious but they also give us an insight into the hardening attitudes in Brussels – there can be no half way house, the UK is either in or out!
In contrast the statements from the UK side reflect the wish to avoid a ‘hard border’ – the UK and Irish Governments will come to an arrangement, but the negotiations will be with the EU not the Irish.
In August the 1st Minister (Arlene Foster) and Deputy 1st Minister (Martin Mc Guinness) for NI wrote to the British PM highlighting five issues:
* The physical border
* Trading costs
* Energy market
* EU funding – particularly for agriculture
* Agri-food sector
The Prime Minister replied that she wants to retain the Common Travel Area – Irish and UK citizens can move freely between the two jurisdictions without passport controls.
But it is the mobility of labour that is the critical issue – thousands of people commute daily across the border to work and they are not only Irish and UK citizens, many are EU nationals. Employers must retain access to unskilled as well as skilled workers for both the private sector and public sector.
If I am an Irish citizen living in Monaghan will I need a work permit to work in Armagh?
The UK Prime Minister (Teresa May) has a very difficult task to reconcile the demands for immigration control, access to the single market and the hard line position reflected in the statements from Brussels.
The meetings in London last week – four months after the vote – suggest that the UK government are starting a consultation process with Wales, Scotland and NI. Scotland’s position has been well documented over the past four months but it was a surprise that Wales is also demanding access to the single market.
The irony of the vote is that the UK has reached full employment. If the economy is to continue to grow it needs migrant workers to take up jobs in agriculture, retail, hotels and the NHS.
We can only speculate that the UK will seek to control immigration through:
* Work permit schemes
* Sectoral employment schemes
* Points system for skilled worker
How will immigration be policed at the border?
Agri – food sector
It is not a surprise that the Agri-food sector is singled out for special mention by the NI Ministers, the UK accounts for over 50% of all Irish food exports and for many SME’s it is the only export market.
The Mushroom Industry is the most exposed sector – 90% of production is exported to the UK, which is the only realistic market for short shelf life product.
Exports to UK 90%
Value of exports €130 M
Jobs 3500 in the rural economy
Many of the deals were struck with UK retailers were when sterling was at 70p : €1 but has now dropped to 90p : €1 a loss in value of 20%. The Mushroom Industry faces a very uncertain future.