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Coronavirus - Government announces new plan in the fight against Covid-19 - Ireland

  • Ireland
  • Coronavirus - Country overview
  • Coronavirus - Return to work

17-09-2020

On 15 September 2020, the Government published its new plan: “Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19”.

The Plan is designed to act as a medium-term roadmap for living with Covid-19 to “help us to go about our daily lives as much as possible, while managing the behaviour of the virus” over the course of the next six to nine months.

It consists of a five-level framework of restrictions, with one being the least restrictive, and five being the most restrictive. Level five, for example, would entail restrictions amounting to a lockdown similar to the onerous restrictions imposed back in March and April of this year.

As of the date of this article, the whole of the country (bar Dublin) is currently at Level Two of the Plan and the next review date is 4 October 2020. However, in what has been described as somewhat “confusing”, Dublin is at Level Two “and a bit” with some additional restrictions in place which can be viewed here. There have also been suggestions that Dublin may move into Level Three in the coming days.

The new Plan is available to view in full here.

A closer look at the new alert levels

Table showing the restrictions imposed at varying levels of the Plan, spanning from Level 1 to Level 5:

New government plan

Key considerations from a business perspective

The following is a high-level overview of some of the key measures set out in the Plan which businesses should take note of:

Work from home if possible – Importantly, under all five levels of the Plan, employees are advised to continue working from home, where possible. Employees who can work from home are advised to only attend work for essential on-site meetings, inductions and training. Therefore, employers should continue to facilitate home working, where possible.

Pandemic Unemployment Payment (“PUP”) – PUP will be paid at three different rates: (1) employees who earned over €300 per week will receive €300 per week; (2) employees who earned between €200-€300 per week will receive €250 per week; and (2) employees who earned less than €200 per week will receive €203 per week. The PUP will remain open to new entrants up until 31 December 2020 given the need to continue supporting people through the next phase of the pandemic.

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (“EWSS”) – The EWSS provides a subsidy of up to €203 per week for eligible employees normally earning between €203-€1,462 per week and €151.50 to those normally earning between €151.50-€202.99. This will remain in place until 31 March 2021.

Redundancies – In the normal course of events, employees who have been temporarily laid off or placed on short time work for at least four weeks (or six weeks within a period of 13 weeks) have the right in certain circumstances to demand that their employer make them redundant, pursuant to the Redundancy Payment Act 1967. However, in light of the current climate, emergency legislation, which was introduced earlier this year contained a provision which suspended the right of laid-off employees or those placed on short time work to apply for redundancy from their employer. These provisions have now been extended until 30 November 2020 in the interests of protecting businesses and preventing permanent job losses.

Covid-19 Illness Benefit – The rate of payment is €350 per week and this payment will remain in place until end-March 2021.

Travel restrictions – Ireland will “broadly support” the European Commission’s proposal for a common approach to travel restrictions and movement within the EU with an aim to “developing a regime that is consistent with public health requirements, cognisant of public resources and capacity, while supportive of the need to support air transport.” It is envisaged that the EU proposal will be colour coded and updated weekly in line with the spread of Covid-19. We are currently awaiting a further update in this regard.

Inspections – In order to ensure compliance with public health advice to date and obligations under the Return to Work Safety Protocol, the Plan outlines the increased resources which will be allocated to the HSA. For example, this includes the recruitment of additional staff or the HSA Workplace Contact Unit, which provides a national information service regarding COVID-19 issues in workplaces. The Plan also outlines that additional resources will be provided to the HSA for investigating and managing sectors when outbreaks occur.

Supports for businesses - In July, the Government announced its Jobs Stimulus, made up of €4 billion in direct expenditure, €1 billion in taxation measures, and €2 billion in credit guarantees, providing certainty on supports for employers and workers into 2021. The Plan confirms that the Government will continue to consider whether there is a need for any further targeted business support measures, building on the extensive July Stimulus measures, in the event of new restrictions being introduced.

It remains to be seen how events will unfold over the course of the coming weeks and how and when important decisions will be made as regards moving between levels of the Plan. However, there is already much speculation that Dublin is moving towards a Level Three, so unfortunately, it may not be too long before we have another update.

For more information, please contact

Joanne Hyde, Partner and Head of Employment - joannehyde@eversheds-sutherland.ie

Julie Galbraith, Partner in Employment - juliegalbraith@eversheds-sutherland.ie

Ciara McMahon, Associate in Employment - ciaramcmahon@eversheds-sutherland.ie

For support on legal issues facing your business in light of the outbreak of Covid-19, please visit our Coronavirus hub to get our latest information and guidance.