Shannon Chamber HR is a dedicated HR and Employment Law Support Service for members of Shannon Chamber provided in partnership with Adare Human Resource Management, experts in Employment Law, Industrial Relations, Human Resources and Health & Safety at preferential rates.
Derek McKay, Managing Director of Adare Human Resource Management provides an update on some recently introduced and revised employment legislation and how it might impact your business. It is worth keeping up to-date given some of the legislation is aimed at helping to protect businesses as well as employers during the health crisis.
Layoffs and Short-time
Many businesses in the Shannon region are again thrown into uncertainty with further restrictions and another lockdown. Soundings from Government are not overly positive in that when the economy does reopen again in December, it will be at Level 3 at best. This has meant that many businesses have been forced, in some cases for a second time, to put their employees on short-term layoffs or short time.
The Redundancy Payments Acts 1967-2014 make provision for a period of lay-off or short time to be applied where the employer believes that such measures are temporary, as is the hope currently, and that the employer is unable to provide the employee with work for which they are contracted either in a full time capacity or for a lesser period as laid out in the definition of short time.
If this is something that the business is considering, we would first advise that you check for the existence of an express term and condition that lay-off or short time can apply in an employees’ statement of terms and conditions of employment or in the staff handbook. Where an express right does not exist, the employer must consult with the employee and seek their agreement to apply a period of lay-off or short time.
It’s important that the employer approaches lay-offs or short-time with empathy and act in a reasonable manner, explain the rationale, apply fair and objective selection procedures and provide a reasonable period of notice if possible. The supports provided by the Government to-date have helped negate the financial impacts of these situations and it was a positive move to recently increase the PUP back to €350 for qualifying employees, particularly as we approach Christmas, which can be a financially stressful time for many.
Changes to the Redundancy Payment Act
To try and protect employers who placed employees on lay-offs or short-time because of Covid-19, the Government introduced emergency measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 that temporarily reduced the scope of the operation of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 by the addition of Section 12A to the Redundancy Payments Act.
The insertion of Section 12A temporarily suspended the provisions in the Redundancy Payments Act that allowed those on a period of layoff or short time, (for 4 weeks or more, or for 6 weeks in the last 13 weeks), to give notice of their intention to claim for redundancy from their employer.
This provision was then temporarily suspended for the duration of an initial emergency period that was provided in the Emergency Measures Act. This timeframe was recently extended to end at 30th November 2020. It is very likely that this will be further extended but it is important to note that the employee’s right to claim redundancy has not been removed, simply deferred.
Workplace Relations Commission – compulsory remote hearings
The lockdown earlier in the year created a significant backlog in the hearing of complaints in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which it is trying to address. To help, the Government recently signed an order under the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 directing the WRC to conduct all hearings remotely including giving of evidence using video link.
In July, the WRC began trialling remote hearings but parties involved in the selected cases were not obliged to proceed with the hearing virtually and could opt for a face-to-face hearing instead.
However, following the recent Order and effective from 24th September, the WRC no longer needs consent from parties to proceed with a remote hearing. There is an exception to not conducting hearings remotely that states if the WRC believes it would be unfair to a concerned party or contrary to the interests of justice.
While remote hearings will seek to address the backlog of complaints and speed up the resolution process, there are some potential issues. The absence of face-to-face meetings impacts the opportunity to reach an agreement in advance of the hearing. Remote hearings can impact the opportunities for parties to communicate with the representatives. Cross examination of witnesses maybe negatively impacted as a result of remote locations, which also highlights some further privacy issues as well.
Advice for any employer facing a WRC hearing is to ensure they are fully aware of the processes involved and prepare accordingly.
Employment Legislative changes to be aware of
Minimum wage: As of 1st January 2021, the national minimum wage will increase to €10.20 per hour and it is estimated to benefit over 120,000 employees.
Parental leave: From 1st September, a parent can take up to 26 working weeks of unpaid leave for a qualifying child up to the age of 12.
Pension Age: The planned increase of the retirement age to 67 will not now be implemented in January 2021, so the pension age will remain at 66 years.
Parent’s Leave/Benefit: the Budget 2021 detailed an increase to Parent’s benefit by an additional 3 weeks. This means that each parent will be entitled to 5 weeks leave in total during the first year of a child’s life, assuming all eligibility criteria has been satisfied.
Illness Benefit: It was announced in the recent budget that the number of waiting days for Illness Benefit, paid at €203 per week, will be reduced from six days to three for new claims from the end of February 2021.
An important point to note is that currently, employers are not obliged to provide sick pay to employers. If an employer does provide sick pay, the duration for the pay is at their discretion or as per their contractual terms with their employees. However, under proposals from the Labour Party, this may change in the future.
And, currently any employee who is certified absent because of having, or suspected of having Covid-19 is entitled to the enhanced payment of €350 per week. Under the Labour Party proposals, it is recommended that parents of children who have to stay at home because of Covid-19 should be entitled to this payment.
At Adare Human Resource Management, we will continue to keep you updated of any changes and how they might impact you and your business.
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