COVID-19 has had a major impact on all of us. Whilst we all get to grip with what politicians are calling the ‘new normal’, many employees around the country are worried about the effects that this health emergency will have on their jobs. Many have already been laid off, some have received less hours or have been placed on part-time work, and a number have had their salaries reduced. At O’Brien Murphy Solicitors, we have been busy answering some of your employment-related questions during COVID-19.

Here’s our answers* to a few frequently asked questions

Q1.      I’ve been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19. Is this allowed and can am I entitled to a redundancy payment?

Yes and no. An employer is entitled to temporarily lay-off employees if they are not in a position to provide their employee(s) with work and they reasonably believe that this lack of work is temporary. Under normal circumstances, after a period of time of being temporarily laid off (after 4 weeks or more, or 6 weeks in the last 13 weeks), employees may be entitled to a redundancy payment. However, emergency legislation recently enacted to help tackle the impact of COVID-19 has removed this right for the duration of the ‘emergency period’. This ‘emergency period’ is currently defined as being from 13 March 2020 to 31 May 2020 but can be extended. Please note that those who have been temporarily laid off may be entitled to social welfare support.

The emergency legislation however, does not allow employers to dismiss employees on a permanent basis. If an employer considers that the lack of work will be permanent and dismisses an employee on that basis, normal redundancy rules will apply.

Q2.      I’ve been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19. Am I entitled to my job back once this health crisis is over?

Under normal circumstances, yes. If an employee has been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19, it is a sign that their employer believes that the lack of work will be temporary. Once the ‘emergency period’ is over and an employer is in a position to provide the employee with work, they will be entitled to return to work on that basis and their contracts of employment will remain in force.

However, if an employee is dismissed, or their hours are reduced on a permanent basis after the ‘emergency period’, they may be entitled to a redundancy payment and normal redundancy rules will apply.

Q3.      My employer has reduced my working hours due to COVID-19. What are my rights?

Employers are entitled to reduce the working hours of employees for a short period of time if they reasonably believe that such reduction in hours will be temporary. Under normal circumstances, after a certain period of time of reduced working hours (after 4 weeks or more, or 6 weeks in the last 13 weeks), employees may be entitled to redundancy. However, emergency legislation recently enacted to help tackle the impact of COVID-19 has removed this right for the duration of the ‘emergency period’. This ‘emergency period’ is currently defined as being from 13 March 2020 to 31 May 2020 but can be extended.

Therefore, employees who have been placed on short time work (and receive reduced remuneration) are not entitled to any redundancy payment during this ‘emergency period’. However, if this continues after the ‘emergency period’ had ended, normal redundancy rules will apply. Please note that those who have been placed on short term work may be entitled to social welfare support.

Q4.      My employer has reduced my salary due to COVID-19. Is this allowed?

Not unless it is either agreed in advance with the employee or there is a specific provision within the employee’s employment contract which allows for such a change. Since changing an employee’s remuneration is considered a material change to the terms and conditions of an employment contract, it cannot be changed unilaterally without their consent or without a specific provision within the contract which provides for such change. Whist most contracts of employment will include such emergency provisions, it would be far more desirable for an agreement to be reached between employers and employees in this respect.

Q5.      I’ve been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19. Do I still accrue annual leave during this period?

No. Annual leave is calculated based on the time an employee works. If an employee has been temporarily laid off and is not working, they cannot accrue annual leave during this period. However, employees are entitled to the annual leave that they accrued prior to being temporarily laid off.

Notwithstanding this, employees who have been temporary laid off remain legally employed by their employer, despite the fact that they may not be receiving a salary. Since contracts of employment remain in force, employees are entitled (under the Organisation of Working Time Act) to benefit from any public holidays that occur during the first 13 weeks of temporary lay-off. An employer can give the employee:

  1. a paid day off on that day;
  2. a paid day off within a month of that day;
  3. an additional day of annual leave; or
  4. an additional day’s pay.

* Please note that the answers to these questions may differ depending on the contract of employment in place and the individual circumstances that arise therefrom. These answers are not intended to form the basis of legal advice and should not be construed as such. Should you wish to receive legal advice based on your individual circumstances, please contact O’Brien Murphy Solicitors by phone on 01 8746959 or by email at [email protected]

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