TSA Memos

 

 

Client Memo: Friday December 18th 2020

 

Dear Client,

2020 has been a challenging year in many ways. Pretty much everyone will be glad to see the back of it and we hope the vaccines deliver on their promise of less restrictions for people and business in 2021.

On the HR front, many clients and their employees faced a difficult year and, while not universally beneficial, the Government supports for both the individual and at enterprise level did stave off financial ruin, albeit at a large cost to the exchequer.

While 2021 hopes to bring personal freedoms, it is critical that employers continue to plan and strategise as the knock-on effects of this year are yet to be realised. Employers need to predict how their business will perform when the Government supports stop and possibly warehoused debt will need to be accounted for. Brexit (remember that!) is front-page news again with the UK formally leaving the EU and, as we write this note, no deal has yet been announced.

In 2021, we will celebrate 30 years since Tom Snr. left Musgraves and set up a consultancy in what was the ‘good room’ in the Smyth household. We still have so many clients who have been with us since the start and, as always, in 2021 we will do all we can to help our clients and their employees get through, and past, more difficult times. We continue to grow and develop and in Q1 we will have some exciting news with new services coming ‘on stream’.

Below are some items that you may wish to keep in mind as we move towards the New Year and the changes that will bring. For now, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and we look forward to talking with and, as soon as possible, meeting you all in 2021.

National Minimum Wage (NMW) 

The NMW will increase by 10c per hour from January 1st, 2021 to €10.20 per hour. This means that the rates also move for;

Under 18 years of age to €7.14

Ages 18 years to €8.16

Aged 19 years to €9.18

 

Sick Pay 

The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently announced his desire to legislate for mandatory sick pay for employees in 2021. Submissions are currently being sought on this from relevant parties with the closing date of Friday the 18th of December. TSA are working on our own submission which balances fairness to employees and protections for employers. It would appear if a Fine Gael Tánaiste seems so positively disposed to the concept, it is likely in the near future employers will be obliged to contribute to a form of sick pay to their employees.

Parents Leave 

From April 2021, Parent’s Leave will be extended from two weeks to five weeks each per parent for children born on or after November 1st 2019. In addition to this, from April 2021, parents can avail of Parent’s Leave up until the child reaches the age of 2. Parent’s Leave, not to be confused with Parental, Paternity or Maternity Leave was introduced in 2019. It is not paid for by the employer, but the employee does accrue certain employment rights such as annual leave and receives a payment from DEASP during their leave.

Pensions and Retirement 

As clients will likely be aware, the Government is bringing in a mandatory auto-enrollment pension scheme, whereby all workers avail of a private pension scheme which both employees and their employer must contribute into.  This was announced as the State struggles on its own to support retirees via the State pension scheme alone and, given the demographics of the country, this will only become more difficult as the century progresses. The access to the State pension has already moved from 65 to 66 and, while plans to increase the age further have been shelved for now for political reasons, it is inevitable they will be re-introduced in time. The scheme was due to commence in 2022 but it looks as if this will be delayed at this time. Despite this, employers must still be aware of this impending requirement and factor it into their medium term labour cost budgeting.

Of course, pensions is the (at present) thorny issue of retirement. It is now likely that a retirement date in an employee contract of employment is not enforceable. As outlined above, the State is trying to reduce pension costs and therefore allowing employees work longer reduces the burden on the State. It is also arguable that a modern day 65-year-old is now healthier and more equipped to continue in the modern workplace demands than before. The Workplace Relations Commission have published a code of practice covering longer working.

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2017/si/600/made/en/pdf

The days of a simple termination of contract by virtue of retirement on someone’s 65th birthday are gone. Employers need to be very clear on this. Early intervention, possibly on someone’s 64th birthday to discuss plans and options is highly recommended.

We will write more on this in 2021 as information regarding the auto enrollment pension and further legal precedents emerge but, if clients want any light reading over the Christmas period, we recommend researching the decisions in the cases of ‘Roper V RTE’ and ‘James Peter Maloney v Ability West College’.

 

Again, we would wish you a peaceful and safe Christmas. If you have any queries on these, or indeed on any other matters, please do not hesitate to contact us on 021-4634154 and we will be glad to be of assistance.

 

 

Kind regards

TSA Team

Client Memo: Wednesday November 25th 2020

 

Dear Client,

As we look ahead to the anticipated re-opening of many businesses next week we would draw your attention to the updates below.

Return to Work

A revised Work Safely Protocol was issued by the Government on Nov 20th. This replaces previous versions issued under the title of Return to Work Safely Protocol and can be accessed here: gov.ie - Work Safely Protocol

Please bear in mind that employers are expected to review this document and take any necessary actions as appropriate. The document provides up to date information on the Infection Prevention & Control (IPC) measures that all employers are required to implement and again stresses the importance of updating your Covid-19 Response Plan. (Get in contact if you still haven’t completed your Response Plan or require assistance updating it).

We would advise clients whose business has been closed as a result of the recent lock-down, or who are planning to bring employees back to work, to take special note of the ‘Pre-Return to Work Measures’ outlined in the document. It is a requirement that any employee returning to work must complete a ‘pre-return to work’ form in advance of their return. In addition, employers must also have the requisite measures in place to help prevent but also to manage any instances of Covid-19 in the workplace.

To help you with this, please find attached a template ‘pre-return to work’ form which we have prepared and which you may find useful. We have also included a ‘return to work from lay-off’ letter which may be helpful for clients who wish to communicate a planned re-opening date to employees or start the process of notifying employees that they must be available to return to work next week.

Separately, as the provision of Covid-19 Induction Training is obligatory for all employees returning to work after a closure we would draw your attention to two free online courses provided by the HSA: 

Return to Work Safely Induction

Lead Worker Representative

Each of these courses take approximately 20 minutes to complete and each employee will receive a certification of completion, a copy of which should be sent to you for inclusion on their employee file. These courses can be accessed via the following link: 

https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/covid-19/hsa_return_to_work_safely_online_courses/

 

GDPR

Please note also that GDPR continues to be of particular importance and we recommend you continue to familiarise yourself with the guidance issued by Government particularly as, for example, the Data Protection Commission is instructing that the pre-return to work form should be deleted as soon as the employee returns to work. Further information is available from the link below: 

Data Protection – Return to Work Safely Protocol

 

CRSS

Just announced today (Nov 25th) by Paschal Donohoe, the Government will now allow businesses to claim for an additional one week payment under the Covid Restriction Support Scheme (CRSS) to assist with re-opening.  

Minister Donohoe announces additional 'restart week' under Covid Restrictions Support Scheme to assist businesses in reopening

To qualify, businesses must be able to demonstrate that  “because of the Covid restrictions, the turnover of the business in the period for which the restrictions are in operation, and for which a claim is made, will be no more than 25% of an amount equal to the average weekly turnover of the business in 2019 (or average weekly turnover in 2020 in the case of a new business) multiplied by the number of weeks in the period for which a claim is made”

Further details on this scheme and its operation can be found on the Revenue.ie website:

Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS)

 

Redundancy

In a further Government announcement, the legal right of employees to demand redundancy after a period of lay-off has been suspended for a fifth time until 31 March 2021. While there is no indication as to what will happen beyond this date we will continue to monitor the situation and keep you abreast of any developments as they arise. 

 

As always, if you have any queries on these, or indeed on any other matters, please do not hesitate to contact us on 021-4634154 and we will be glad to be of assistance.

 

Kind regards

TSA Team

 

Client Memo: Friday November 6th 2020

 

Dear Client,

 

It has been a rollercoaster year for business and every sector and individual organisation has been impacted in a specific manner by the pandemic. As we continue to live with Covid-19, we wish to alert clients to some HR considerations that are likely to be relevant as we look to close out Winter 2020.  

Annual Leave

As we approach the end of 2020, it is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the holiday plans of most employees. Many have cancelled leave which was scheduled for earlier in the year and the current Level 5 restrictions have put further pressure on holiday plans.

If / when restrictions are eased in December, employers may find themselves in a position where it is difficult to allow employees to take annual leave days (due to a work backlog or a busy December).

As a first step, we recommend that employers conduct a stock-take on outstanding annual leave totals for 2020 and gain a clear picture of entitlements. Remember, some employees may not have accrued their normal annual leave entitlements this year.

Develop a plan to either a) facilitate the taking of annual leave or b) consider what employees can carry over into 2021. If you generally do not allow a carry-over of untaken annual leave perhaps you could make a special allowance for this year only (be sure to clarify this in writing!).

Remember employees cannot be paid for any untaken annual leave. Ultimately, it is up to the employee to take his/her annual leave, but an employer must be seen to make sufficient efforts to allow time slots for this leave to be taken.

 

Public Holidays

We are also looking ahead to the Christmas season and would like to advise/remind clients that the Public Holidays over the festive season are:

- December 25th (Friday)

- December 26th (Saturday)*

- January 1st (Friday)

* As the public holiday of December 26th falls on a weekend, many employers will voluntarily transfer the benefit for this day to the following Monday. However, that is based on their own business needs and remember, Monday 28th December is classed as a normal working day.

 

Dignity at Work

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) are conducting inspections to ensure employer compliance with both base employment law and the Government Return to Work Safely Protocols and Covid-19 protection measures. 

While inspections can cover a wide range of areas, we have noticed a particular focus on checking an employer’s Dignity at Work and/or Bullying & Harassment policies. The Covid-19 pandemic is, of course, a source of anxiety for many and in certain workplaces some colleagues are more affected than others. Unfortunately, tales of parties, gatherings, socialising and non-compliance with restrictions may circulate and potentially lead to confrontation amongst workers.

We recommend that employers review and communicate their relevant policies, encourage employees to behave in a respectful manner at work and ensure employees know what protocols to follow should an issue arise.   

 

Probation

In the midst of all the chaos that is Covid-19, we would like to remind our clients of the importance of correctly managing employee probation, including the extension of probationary periods where applicable.

Set some time aside to cross reference your employee start dates, check employee contracts and identify those who are still within their probation period. Be sure to review each contract to confirm your probation clause allows the probation period to be paused during periods of layoff. Clearly mark all employee probation review dates in your calendar and schedule probation review meetings with these employees. Where these meetings cannot take place in person, you may wish to conduct them either virtually (using online platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts etc.) or over the phone. 

Separately to all of the above, this has been a challenging year for both employers and employees alike. Take some time to acknowledge the efforts put in by your employees and consider if, in the likely absence of a Christmas party, there are other ways in which you can show your appreciation to staff who have stayed the course in these unprecedented times. 

 

If you need guidance or specific advice on any of the discussed topics, please do not hesitate to contact the team here in Tom Smyth & Associates. 

 

Kind regards,
TSA Team
 

 

Client Memo: Tuesday October 20th 2020

 

Dear Client,

 
Clearly the news of another lockdown is disappointing to process, and some businesses will be affected more than others. We send this note to update Clients on employment related specifics of what the Government has announced and our own thoughts on the importance of positive communication with all colleagues during this upcoming period.

Links to Essential Business Lists from Government

Full details of restrictions:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/

List of essential retail:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/60ecc-essential-retail-outlets-for-level-4/?referrer=http://www.gov.ie/essentialretail/

List of essential services:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c9158-essential-services/?referrer=http://www.gov.ie/essentialservices/

 

Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP)

A new band of PUP has been introduced at a rate of €350 per week for those who previously earned over €400 per week.

The current bands are:

€350 for those earning over €400 per week

€300 for those earning between €300 and €400 per week

€250 for those earning between €200 and €300 per week

€203 for those earning less than €200 per week

If you are impacted by the recent Government announcement and need to place employees on lay-off you should direct them to the Department of Employee Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) to apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). The simplest and fastest way of doing this is to advise the employee to visit their MyWelfare.ie portal at https://services.mywelfare.ie/

When notifying employees of this lay-off please check your terms of employment to ensure you reserve the right to do this. Always provide each employee with a letter confirming, with regret, their temporary lay-off and reassure them that you hope to see them back as soon as possible. As we outline below, the wording of this letter is critical, especially if you are retaining some team members and placing others on lay-off. Please contact TSA for support and advice in such scenarios.

Technically, you should also prepare an RP9 form and provide this to employees also.

Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) 

New bands of EWSS have also been introduced to coincide with the new PUP rate. This scheme is a support for those in jobs and earning a weekly wage and we understand the qualifying criteria of a 30% reduction in year on year turnover has not altered.

We understand further information will be released on this over the coming days, however, in the meantime, we encourage you to consider registering for the Scheme. You can register for the Scheme at any time, however doing this now will ensure that if you do need to use the Scheme in the future any payments will be back-dated to the date of registration.

Retaining certain employees

While details are yet to be published, if you are keeping a skeleton staff to manage a ‘click and collect’ or ‘take away’ service it’s important you select those who are offered work hours in a fair and transparent manner. Traditionally employees with the most service have seniority so are the first to be given any hours. These are, however, unprecedented times and senior employees may be reluctant to attend work in a Level 5 situation for reasons of genuine concern or because they are financially better off receiving PUP.

It may be necessary to select certain employees based on their skills set or position to ensure you service the business needs. We would encourage all employees to show caution in who they choose to retain and lay-off to minimise any risk of employee grievance or legal claims. 

Training/Support

While being on lay-off is never a positive experience, in March the weather was pleasant and Covid fatigue had not yet set in. The next few weeks may provide a different challenge for those placed on lay-off. 

We would encourage employers to be very conscious of the mental health and wellbeing of their colleagues, both those working and on lay-off.

  • Keep clear and open lines of communication with all employees.
  • If you have an employee assistance program (EAP) encourage those who need support to use it.
  • Consider preparing a customised training or reading list for them to develop some work related skills.
  • Challenge them to support vulnerable neighbours and support their community in any way they can. Consider offering a form of remuneration or voucher for a colleague who displays an excellent social conscience during these challenging times.

 

The upcoming period will be a challenging and unpleasant experience in so many ways. Encourage your team to find some light in the darkness and use this period as a springboard for good. Ensure that your business and your team are remembered in the good times for how they acted during the bad.

Please don’t hesitate to call us with any query. We are here to help 021-4634154

 

Kind regards,
TSA Team

 

 

Client Memo: Thursday October 15th 2020

 

Dear Client,

We hope this update finds you well. With the move to Level 4 in some border counties and the ongoing high level of daily cases we wanted to send an update with some key information and advice.

Firstly, it is critical you maintain clear communication with your teams on the Covid-19 Protocols introduced in your business. Most organisations introduced Covid-19 protection measures as part of the Government Return to Work Protocols in early Summer. Being honest, many of these protection measures are only being tested now given the resurgence of the virus. 

It’s critical you understand the difference between a Close Contact versus a Casual Contact as the difference is great and the knock-on effects for the individual and possibly a business roster is vast.

Please refer to the HSE website for clear definitions on Contacts:

https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/close-contact-and-casual-contact.html

Having a clear policy for managing Covid-19 contacts, scares, cases and absences is important. We recommend you prepare a separate Winter 2020 Absence Policy that may temporarily replace or bolster your existing absence policy.

We have prepared and attached a draft template for you, which we would recommend you review and tailor to the exact requirements of your business. Please feel free to contact our team to assist you with this.

 

We would like to extend our ongoing good wishes personally and professionally and please don’t hesitate to keep in touch with any query.

 

We remain fully available to support you in navigating these times,
 
Kind regards,

TSA Team
 

 

 

Client Memo: Friday september 18th 2020

 

Dear Client,

We hope this mail finds you well as we head into the weekend. We would like to draw your attention to the updates below;

 Green List’ Changes

Please see the link below detailing the changes to Ireland’s ‘Green List’ of foreign countries, effective Monday Sept 21st. Individuals arriving into Ireland from these countries are not required to restrict their movements.

https://www.dfa.ie/travel/

Please note that some countries have now been removed from the ‘Green List’ including Greece which had proved a popular foreign destination and where many Irish-based holidaymakers are now visiting! These people will need to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Ireland.

This list is subject to change on a weekly basis so we would advise you to bookmark the link provided and keep yourself informed of developments as they arise.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP)

The PUP rate of payment changed this week and will now be linked to the employee’s previous earnings.

From Sept 17th  the following rates apply:

 

Average Weekly Earnings

 

 

Personal Rate

Over €300

 

€300

€200 - €300

 

€250

Less than €200

 

€203

The Government confirmed that it will reduce further in a staged manner on 1st February 2021 and 1st April 2021. The scheme will remain in place until April 2021.

They also reversed their decision to stop new applicants for the scheme from this week. 

 

Redundancy Claims

Government have again extended the period whereby those laid off due to Covid-19 cannot give notice of their intention to claim for redundancy from their Employer. This has now been extended to November 30th.

Obviously, if an employer unfortunately needs to make employees redundant this does not preclude an employer from proceeding with this.

 

As always, please be sure to contact us with any queries you may have on the above or indeed on any other HR matter.

 Kind regards,

TSA Team
 

 

 

 

Client Memo: Wednesday August 26th 2020

Dear Client,

We hope this update finds you safe and well. We know that most clients are now back in some form of business, albeit still restricted by the pandemic.

We remain available to assist in any way possible and would draw your attention to a number of items which you may need to take into consideration.

End of the TWSS and Introduction of EWSS

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) ends Monday August 31st, with employers having until 14th September to lodge payroll for August only in order to avail of subsidy funds. Employers must apply separately for the new Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS). This commences on September 1st, with different qualifying criteria and expectations. Please find attached the first publication from Revenue on this scheme.

Schools Re-Opening

Some employees have had ongoing difficulties with childcare, which has impacted their return to work. With schools and creches re-opening fully now, we encourage clients to contact any employees in this situation to now confirm a return to work date.

If you require further support or guidance on this be sure to give us a call.

Covid-19 Response Plan

While the majority of clients prepared fully in line with the Government’s Covid-19 return to work protocols and made obvious and physical changes to their workplaces, it is important that the “hidden” preparations are also ready. We are now steadily receiving calls from clients who have employees reporting Covid-19 symptoms / have been diagnosed with Covid-19 / have family members with symptoms or Covid-19 diagnoses.

It is important that you and your management team know how to manage each of these (and similar) scenarios.

We have attached the template for the Covid-19 Response Plan issued by the Health & Safety Authority (HSA). If you have already prepared one we would encourage you to revisit it. If you have not prepared one, please do it asap in order to be organised and ready for Covid-19 related issues that are likely to affect every business over the coming winter months. If you require any guidance or support in preparing this plan or would like us to prepare a bespoke plan for you, please call us.

Annual Leave

We would recommend clients take stock of outstanding annual leave balances as we head towards the Autumn/Winter. Remember, full time employees who will work more than 1,365 hours in 2020 will still earn their 4 weeks annual leave. Clients may want employees to use up their annual leave this year, or may allow some to be carried over in line with a company policy or as a special one off allowance to take account of the strange year that 2020 has been.

As always, we remain fully available to support you with HR matters.

  
Kind regards,


TSA Team

 
 

 

Client Memo: Friday June 19th 2020

Dear Client,

As many of you have re-opened, or are in the process of doing so, we wish you every success in the weeks and months ahead.

Overall, there seems to be a sense of positivity as we continue to make progress towards a new ‘business as usual’. Of course with re-opening will come certain considerations, which you will need to bear in mind as employers.

We would draw your attention to a number of points below.

COVID-19 Inspections 

While COVID-19 remains a very real risk in our community, the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) have been tasked with enforcing the Government Return to Work Safely Protocols. In addition to allocating up to 500 new HSA inspectors to visit premises, additional inspectors from e.g. the WRC and the Food Safety Authority have also been drafted in to carry out inspections and have visited many workplaces already.

To be fair, there is evidence of an overall fair and supportive attitude from inspectors thus far. Once employers can show they are making a reasonable effort to prepare their array of Covid-19 specific policies and procedures and provide training to their employees in line with the Government Protocols, the inspectors are reviewing the workplace, advising of any gaps and allowing the employer time to make improvements.

However please be aware that, where WRC inspectors are visiting premises, it would appear that they are not limiting their inspections to the Protocols above but are also asking questions in relation to Employment Law compliance (e.g. payslips, rates of pay, breaks, contracts etc.) In effect, they are conducting a mini WRC Audit while on-site!  

If you have any queries around this we are happy to provide you with advice and support and, if required, to assist you in preparing your required COVID-19 and other policies.

 

The Ongoing Importance of Procedure

While these are certainly strange times, and there is no doubt that employers are dealing with difficult scenarios, please do not be tempted to take shortcuts with HR. If workplace issues arise, proper procedures still need to be followed. 

In a recent decision issued by the WRC, a co-ordinator of an early school leavers programme who admitted to overpaying his wife approx. €60,000 and selling company property such as a fridge online, was still awarded almost €2,500. While the substantive issues were clearly viewed as serious and the WRC found that there were a number of grounds justifying his dismissal for gross misconduct, the employee still received an award for unfair dismissal due to procedural shortcomings. In addition to the award, the employer would also have incurred substantial time and monetary costs in preparing for and defending the case which lasted 2 days.

  

Workplace Relations Commission - Delays

The WRC have not scheduled or heard a legal case since lockdown began. While there has been consultation regarding remote hearings, none have started as yet. It also appears that the WRC have difficulties keeping on top on postal claims as remote working and social distancing mean post remains unopened for weeks. As the Covid-19 situation develops and more cases are lodged by disgruntled employees we can envisage waiting lists for hearings stretching to 12 or even 18 months. This, coupled with a recessionary job market, means that employees may not get alternative work so the costs associated with some cases (such as unfair dismissal) may increase as awards are based on loss of earnings.

 

Extension of COVID-19 supports for both employer & employees

Minister Donohoe has confirmed that the TWSS (Wage Subsidy Scheme) will be extended until the end of August 2020. This is certainly good news for those who continue to qualify for the scheme.

Minister Doherty has approved an extension of the PUP (Pandemic Unemployment Payment) until 10th August 2020. In addition, a 2 level payment structure will be introduced on the 29th June, linking the PUP to prior earnings: 

§  For those with prior earnings of €200 or above, their PUP will remain at €350.

§  For those with prior earnings below €199.99, their PUP will be reduced to €203 (the traditional amount payable under the Jobseekers payment).

For those businesses who may not qualify for the TWSS, but continue to have employees working reduced hours (max of 3 days), remember the employee can claim additional support from Social Welfare via the Short-Time Work Support under Jobseekers Benefit/ Allowance.

  

TWSS & Tapering

Since the TWSS moved to the ‘operational phase’ on the 4th May, the introduction of Revenue providing the subsidy information due to the employer via a CVS file has been viewed as a positive move and provided clarity. However, as many businesses have now brought some employees back to the workplace and are paying the ‘top-up’, tapering is becoming an issue for some as it can negatively impact the subsidy amount employers can claim.

The TWSS is subject to a tapered reduction if the subsidy plus the gross amount paid by the employer is greater than the employees previously average net weekly pay (ARNWP) from January & February.

In some cases we have seen, the subsidy itself has reduced significantly and in some cases no subsidy was payable from Revenue as the top-up portion was considerably higher than the reduced hours the employee was working in January (due to the seasonal nature of that business). In this case, the employer would not receive any subsidy for this employee, however, having reviewed the matter with our client, the better option was to bring more employees back to the workplace (off layoff).

 

As always, we remain available to advise and support you.

Please contact us if you require any clarification or further information relating to the above, or indeed any other HR query.

TSA Team

 

Client Memo May 12th_Covid-19_Return to Work Safely Protocols

Dear Client,

Last weekend the Government published its 'Return to Work Safely Protocol'.

This sets out the operational expectations on employers who conduct business during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Employers need to take the provisions of this document seriously and make it a key part of their re-opening and operational plans.

To complement the Government 'Return to Work Safely Protocol', we have prepared a commentary document for Clients, highlighting and commenting on some of the key areas employers need to address.(see Useful HR Documents)

We have also included a template for our clients of a “Pre-Return to Work Questionnaire”, which the Government document instructs employers to use before welcoming an employee back to work following an absence.(see Useful HR Documents)

As always, we are available for further discussion and advice on 021-4634154 or info@tsaconsultants.ie

TSA Team

 

Client Memo: Thursday April 30th 2020

Dear Client,

We hope this communication finds you and yours in good health.

As we continue to support you through the current crisis, we are moving our focus to the weeks and months ahead, and we urge you to prepare for the new realities, challenges and opportunities facing businesses in Ireland.
 
To help you with this, we have prepared and attached a report titled “Covid-19 Pandemic HR Considerations” which we hope you will find useful in identifying and addressing the legal and operational decisions you may need to consider, and their HR implications, as you move forward with your business.
 
There is a substantial amount of information in this report. Please be reminded that the content is designed to be read as general guidance to our clients and we would strongly recommend you contact us for advice on your specific set of circumstances as appropriate.

A copy of this report is available in the Useful HR Documents section of the Retainer Login area.

We remain fully available to support you in navigating these times,
 
Take care,

TSA Team
 

 

 

Client Memo: Thursday April 10th 2020

Dear Client,
 
For many employers, the dust has started to settle slightly in terms of addressing the queries related to the immediate financial and human impacts of business closures, reduced staffing and remote working. However, there are a number of areas which we would draw your attention to:
 
 Welfare Inspections
 
We have been made aware that Social Welfare inspectors are contacting clients who may have laid people off and are at the same time recruiting. The past few weeks have been hectic and lots of decisions have been made in haste. We would encourage all clients to reflect and check the following:
 

  • Have you placed some employees on lay off (removed them from payroll) yet are hiring others to support your roster at present? If so, can you show a clear logic to each instance?
  • Where employees have chosen to stay at home and given a genuine reason for this decision, can you be sure that they have not chosen to claim the Covid Pandemic welfare payment? Have you written to them to ensure there is clarity that they are off the roster of their own choice?

It is worth ensuring that every employee who is not working has received a letter from you confirming their position, especially if Welfare inspectors are looking into circumstances they view as unusual.
 
Wage Subsidy Scheme - Tax Considerations 
 
Employers and Employees who are utilising the Wage Subsidy Scheme (WSS) must be aware that, while payments will be given in real time in a tax efficient manner, they are not tax free payments and the employee will have to pay tax on them in due course. Revenue have said they will look at this later in the year and are considering reducing people’s credits for 2021. However, there may still be a risk that employees will have a lump sum of tax taken out of their wages in late 2020.
Employers utilising the WSS would be wise to ensure that employees are aware of this and are not blindsided by it at a later time, possibly after the money is spent.
 
Moving Forward
 
The initial, reactive, phase we have found ourselves in now needs to move to more focused planning. For many employers, the restrictions led to an immediate and sharp decline in their business. In contrast, it is likely that the eventual lifting of these restrictions will, although welcome, follow a much more gradual trajectory.
 
Here at TSA we are now encouraging our clients to assess their current position as a result of COVID-19  and to start using this time to develop a clear strategy for re-opening and/or re-imagining their business. Review any learnings from the past few weeks, identify areas of improvement and set out an action plan. Also, look at the unexpected opportunities that this crisis may have brought and think about how you might leverage these.
 
On an immediate and practical level, start thinking about areas such as:
 

  • Do you have a clear and fair rationale behind your selection criteria for returning / non-returning employees?
  • Payroll- are you clear on what will need to be done to e.g. bring employees back from temporary lay-off / reduced working hours / Wage Subsidy Scheme?
  • What do your rosters look like? Can you accommodate employees requests for flexibility where appropriate?
  • What supports are in place for those employees who do return to work? Bear in mind the personal and/or financial pressures your employees may be under.
  • What about annual leave? Have you considered how you will manage this?
  • Performance management- are your employees clear on what you expect from them? Have some job-duties changed? Are there training gaps?
  • If you have remained open, should you consider e.g. a one-off bonus payment as a thank you to employees who have stayed the course?
  • Social distancing- restrictions (although not as stringent) may continue to be necessary.

 
From a HR Management and Employment Law perspective, a key consideration will be ensuring all the necessary HR processes, systems and paperwork are in place to support any and all of the above.  
 
We would urge you to keep up your focus on the weeks ahead, prepare for the new reality of business in Ireland and make sure you are ready when the time comes.
  

TSA Team

 

Client Memo: Thursday April 2nd 2020

Dear Client,

It’s been an exceptionally uncertain and stressful time for both employers and employees alike. For now, we are taking a break from commenting on the Government supports (the good, the bad and the ugly!) and encouraging employers to take some time to consider other HR factors with, and for, their teams.

Rest assured that we will continue to support you as we move through this crisis and hopefully see a return to normality in the not too distant future!

Most businesses would now appear to be in 3 positions:

  1. Workplace is closed and employees are on lay-off (receiving either Social Welfare or the Revenue WSS)
  2. Workplace remains open.
  3. Employees are working from home.

For each of the above positions there are certain considerations which employers should take into account. We have listed some of these below to provide employers with reminders and suggestions to ensure they look after their people, irrespective of their current status.

  1. Closed and on Lay-Off

Technical Considerations

  • Did employees fill in the Welfare form for the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment? If so, have they received confirmation from Social Welfare that their claim has been received and processed?
  • If an employee has a qualifying dependant adult and/or dependant child they may qualify for additional financial support under the Jobseekers Benefit payment. Therefore, they should speak to Social Welfare or Citizen’s Information directly about their personal circumstances to ensure they are in receipt of the best payment for those circumstances.
  • Have you registered for the Wage Subsidy Scheme (WSS)? Do you and/or your payroll provider fully understand how to process wages under this scheme?
  • Have you clearly advised your colleagues on lay-off of how and when they are likely to receive money?
  • While not HR, as an employer have you contacted landlords, suppliers, banks, utilities etc. to discuss your current position?
  • Have you researched further business supports such as the LEO Business Continuity Voucher which covers up to €2,500 in professional services support during this time (including HR support if you need it!) https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/Productivity/Lean-Business-Offer/Lean-Business-Continuity-Voucher.html 
  • Write a new business plan for the rest of the year. When you re-open will you be able to re-employ everyone immediately? What will customer sentiment in your sector be like after this?
  • Get stuck into your business ‘To Do’ list! It will involve tackling the admin. tasks you always put off, but consider creating or reviewing items like…GDPR policies, till procedures, employee handbook, staff contracts, safety risk assessments, social media pages, online management skills courses, business advice etc. Make time to look at the items you were always too busy to do but that are critical to your business!

Human Considerations

  • Keep in touch with your employees! Send them a regular mail to reassure them you care and hope they are well. Ring them for a chat and an update. Reassure them as best you can and offer any support you can.
  • Reach out and offer support if you feel your employees can be of assistance to other employers such as the HSE, nursing homes, food deliveries etc.
  • Provide information and ideas for staff to keep their minds fresh while out. Suggest and provide information on online courses or updated training they could do while out.
  • Conduct a type of employee appraisal and give individual feedback to your team to consider and upskill while they are out. If, when they return, they have made improvements consider a modest reward for them. E.g. complete online refresher training or sign off on the latest employee handbook and you will consider a €20 voucher for completing this homework when they return to work.
  • Network remotely with other business owners to generate ideas for how you can all get through this, offer support to your colleagues and community and prepare for re-opening in a few weeks. This crisis has seen a welcome return of community spirit and collegiality in communities so let’s build on this and plan for business generating activities when we are back up and running.
  1. Workplace Still Open

Technical Considerations

  • Ensure you have communicated with employees on their terms and conditions while you remain open.
  • Ensure any new, temporary, employees have specified purpose or fixed term contracts of employment.
  • While you are still trading, do you qualify for the Revenue Wage Subsidy Scheme (WSS)? Has your trade suffered a significant negative impact due to Covid 19 (-25%) and are you struggling to pay wages and outgoings? Some businesses may qualify to participate in this scheme even if their employees are working full time or are on reduced hours.
  • In a scenario where your team are working reduced hours, you should consider whether participation in the Wage Subsidy Scheme will compensate your employees to the same or greater level as the financial supports offered through Social Welfare under the Short Time Work Support, which is a form of Jobseekers Benefit.
  • Ensure you exchange safety information with other workers visiting your store (e.g. delivery drivers) to ensure they meet the same high standards that your employees do.
  • The National Safety Authority (NSAI) have also collated some practical guidance on this.

Human Considerations

  • At every opportunity, motivate and congratulate your employees on the job they are doing. People who never thought or considered being on the frontline as essential workers during a crisis are now doing exactly that! Many are paid the same or less than the current Welfare payment of €350 net. Many employers are busy also and forget to talk to their employees, especially in such a pressurised time. Don’t forget! Constantly talk to your team and personally thank them for the efforts they are making.
  • Ensure that all social distancing requirements are clearly communicated and are met. Check you have adequate signage in place!
  • Ensure that your social media channels clearly communicate and reflect the legitimate public services reasons you are remaining open, to avoid a PR backlash. Remember to regularly update your trading hours online.
  • Any employee that has an underlying medical issue, or where there is a family member with same, on a risk assessment basis should not be asked to work (where this has been confirmed by their GP in writing).
  1. Working From Home

Technical Considerations

Human Considerations

  • Are employees clear on the level of output you require from them and have you thought about how you will manage their performance?
  • Remember to check in regularly with employees, some people will thrive on working from home while others may find it more challenging.
  • Encourage employees to engage with colleagues to maintain the social connections they have built up in the workplace and keep in touch with progress on projects etc.
  • EAP-Employee Assistance Programs can provide supports for employees and are available as a product from most of the main private health insurers.

All employees will benefit from taking pro-active steps to protect their mental health. The HSE have published some advice on this and we would encourage you to share this with your employees: https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/mental-health/minding-your-mental-health-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak.html

Remember, no matter which of the above circumstances you find yourself in, the current situation is posing a lot of challenges for employers and employees alike. As the situation is constantly evolving and we are all seeing big changes in how we engage with one another, the importance of clear and regular communication with both your team and customers has never been more important. We will continue to support you as you work through the challenges and opportunities within your business so please do not hesitate to call us for advice and guidance.

TSA Team

 

Client Memo: Monday March 30th 2020

Dear Client,

Further to our communication to you last Friday 27th, Revenue have published additional details on the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.

While there has been some additional clarity provided by this, be mindful that Revenue will still expect employers to furnish documentation in support of any claim and employers will be required to fully co-operate with all follow-up discussions or checks.

We would continue to recommend you exercise caution before signing up to the scheme and we strongly encourage you to speak to your financial advisor / accountant before making any final decision.

That being said, for those still keeping employees in work and for many on lay-off who earn more than the €350 flat welfare payment, this is the only real mechanism (besides temporary rent/revenue payments relief) to obtain some payroll support.

Employers are signing up for the scheme, at least for some of their team, and are hopeful that Revenue remain true to the spirit of their scheme and be reasonable and fair when examining an employer’s eligibility in more detail later in the year.

We will continue to monitor and inform you of developments as they arise and we remain fully available to discuss any areas of concern you may have.

TSA Team

 

Client Memo: Friday March 27th 2020

Dear Client,

This is just a short note to catch up on the current position regarding Government employment supports and our thoughts on same, based on our interpretation of them and the feedback from hundreds of clients and contacts over the past 48 hours.

The decision to increase the Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment to a flat rate of €350 for everyone, is, on the one hand, an understandable step by Government to keep money in people’s pockets but it is also clearly a disincentive to work if your workplace has not closed.

It will make it very hard to recruit temporary staff to help out if needed and has impacted staff morale across the country. It has devalued working and given rise to a number of grievances from those employees still working hard, who are now viewing this Social Welfare payment as a more favourable option. This is either because as (i) as a part-time employee they will 'earn' more money through this Social Welfare flat rate than working, or (ii) they now view their weekly salary less favourably. This is particularly true when they deduct their costs and when they see others staying safe at home claiming €350 while they continue to travel to work.

From speaking with a number of businesses since this announcement, the negative impacts of the increase are clear to see and many employers have noted that certain employees are now asking to be laid off and more are threatening to resign so they can avail of Social Welfare, particularly as the form to apply for this payment does not require any information or confirmation from the employer!

Furthermore, Revenue are, disappointingly, stopping their ‘rebate’ facility whereby an employer could mirror welfare and give the Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment via their payroll and get it back from Revenue the next day. Instead, Revenue are now running a ‘Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme’ whereby qualifying employers can claim for 70% of an employee’s normal net wage up to a limit of €410 (€350 limit for net weekly wages between €586 and €960, and nothing permitted for wages over this)

https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/communications/covid19/temporary-covid-19-wage-subsidy-scheme.aspx

The Government are even suggesting that employers take their teams off the Social Welfare €350 per week and instead give them 70% of their weekly wage, even though in many instances this makes the employee substantially worse off.

While the employer does not have to top up beyond the 70%, many feel a moral pressure to do so.

The first major issue is a clear difference financially between the 2 schemes. For employees on less than €500 net per week, the Revenue 70% cannot compete with the 'no questions asked' €350 Social Welfare are promising people.

The other main problem is the lack of fine detail provided by Revenue to date and the nervousness this creates, as clear guidelines outlining the conditions associated with employers qualifying for this Wage Subsidy Scheme are yet to be published.

As advised, you have to sign a self-declaration and be able to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of Revenue, that you have lost 25% of your turnover AND have cash flow difficulties that make paying your outgoings and wages not possible due to Covid 19 difficulties.

Employers simply do not trust that they do qualify, or that Revenue would agree with them that they qualify later in the year, which may result in Revenue issuing demands of repayment and penalties. It is not clear how factors such as monies put aside (for stock, investments etc.) and turnover of parent companies would influence Revenue’s assessment of their financial standing.

For this reason in the past 48 hours Government policy, and a lack of clarity, has led more and more employers who wanted to use the Revenue rebate model and help DEASP by mirroring their payment through payroll, shy away from the new Revenue Wage Subsidy Scheme and break ties with their employee. This is understandable as both parties seem financially better off with the employee claiming directly from DEASP and, furthermore, the employer does not have the stress or concern of justifying their financial position to Revenue either now or in the future.

This is causing frustration and downright anger amongst the small and medium employers of Ireland and rest assured we have submitted your concerns and raised these issues to all relevant Government departments.

TSA Team

 

Client Memo: Wednesday March 25th 2020- 5 PM

Dear Client,

Thank you for bearing with us on what has been a very busy day!

Our team has been dealing with a huge number of calls and we are working through these as quickly as we can.

We understand and share the level of frustration which many of you are feeling in relation to the recent announcements by Government. Along with a lack of information on the specific details, there also appear to be some contradictions and flaws in the scheme.

We can only reassure you that we are posing your questions to the various departments to find satisfactory answers for you.

A key question raised has been; “Are employees financially better off on the €350 payment per week and is this a disincentive to presenting for work?”

<