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16
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Hello Update! - Additions to the Return to Work Safely Protocol

As vaccines roll out and employees begin to return to the office, updates to policies and procedures are changing as a result, so we are back again with a update to The Return to Work Safely Protocol which came into effect in May 2021 to include new learnings on Covid in the workplace. It incorporates the current advice on the Public Health measures needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community and workplaces. The updated Work Safely Protocol provides further guidance for employers in relation to ventilation as part of the range of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as information on how to approach the use of antigen testing in the workplace. 

The updated Protocol is very detailed in relation to the introduction of antigen diagnostic tests and rapid antigen diagnostic tests. 

Firstly let's discuss what is antigen testing?

The COVID-19 antigen test uses a swab to take a sample from your nose. The sample does not need to go to a lab. The test results are quicker than the COVID-19 PCR test, but it has some limitations.

With the update to the protocol employers must:

  • Consult with workers and representatives, as well as the lead worker representative(s) and the safety representatives, before any testing regime is introduced in the workplace and a process for workers who do not wish to take part in such testing should be agreed. 
  • The updated Protocol also sets out that a written occupational health and safety risk assessment to take account of this new work activity and specific risks associated with the use of rapid antigen diagnostic testing in the workplace should be completed.

The spread of the virus is most likely when infected people are in close contact so the risk of getting COVID-19 is higher in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces where infected people spend long periods of time together in close proximity therefore it is important to maximise ventilation in areas where people are in close contact. 

Ventilation, refers to the movement of outdoor air into a building, and the circulation of that air within the building or room while removing stale air to improve the air quality. This can be achieved through natural means (e.g. opening a window) or by mechanical means e.g. HVAC systems. 

Reoccupying workplaces should not, in most cases, require new ventilation systems but improvements to ventilation will help increase the quantity of clean air and reduce the risk of exposure to airborne concentrations of the virus. While ventilation reduces the amount of virus in the air and the aerosol risk, it will have minimal impact on contact transmission (touching surfaces) or droplet transmission where people are within 2 metres of each other. Droplets containing the virus will settle onto the surrounding surfaces within seconds, smaller particles can stay suspended for longer which is why ventilation is not a standalone measure and continued adherence to other public health advice is absolutely essential.

Employers can also seek to reduce the risk of transmission by limiting the numbers of workers in a given area and paying particular attention to work activities that increase deeper breathing. Determining ventilation of enclosed workplace settings should be considered as part of the workplace risk assessment which should consider the following:

- How you currently provide ventilation (fresh air) in your workplace?

- How many workers occupy or use the area(s)?

- How much time do workers spend in the area(s)?

- Are there any features in the workplace which might affect ventilation?

- Does the workplace have multiple or complex ventilation systems in place?

It is advised to speak to the building engineer or system manufacturer before implementing any changes relating to mechanical ventilation.

Further information on ventilation is available at: 

- HPSC – Guidance on non-healthcare settings

- World Health Organisation?

Related Articles:

The Home Stretch: The Final Key Steps in a Safe Employee Return

- As Easy As 1,2,3: Key Elements of Safe Return to The Workplace

- Our Employees Are Back! – How Do I Return My Employees Safely?

Posted in Coronavirus, Customer Update, Employee Handbook, Health & Safety

11
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Supporting Female Employees: Implementing a Menopause Policy

2021 has been a year of big change for everyone and has given rise to many different topics of conversation, a vitally important topic is that of menopause among the female workforces. A media outlet which we believe captures the importance of the conversation around menopause perfectly is The Irish Times who published an article in May 2021 about menopause and the article made reference to how ‘The menopause is where mental health was 10 years ago’. A statement which could not be more true. The origin of this article stemmed from women’s testimonies on Joe Duffy’s Liveline programme and has continued across all media since including being taken up in the Seanad by Senator Pauline O’Reilly. These discussions have brought to the surface the realisation that menopause is considered a taboo subject, like mental health was and like mental health we are not educated enough in what menopause is, the symptoms of it and how we can help those going through menopause which is why it is so important for employers to educate their workforce and to recognise the importance of supporting women in the workplace who are transitioning through menopause which is why we believe it is vitally important for organisations to implement a menopause policy as we believe it needs to be acknowledged and recognised as an important occupational issue requiring supports to be made available.

To ensure that companies show a positive attitude towards the menopause, we want to encourage employers to create an atmosphere where women feel there are colleagues with whom they can comfortably discuss menopausal symptoms and that they can ask for support and adjustments in order to work safely and without fear of negative repercussions. For this reason, the menopause is an issue for men as well as women. So let’s touch on the basics of menopause by answering the simple question, ‘What is menopause?’ Menopause is a natural stage of life when a woman’s estrogen levels decline and she stops having periods. As menopausal symptoms are typically experienced for several years, it is best described as a ‘transition’ rather than a one-off event. The menopause typically happens between age 45 and 55. The ‘perimenopause’ is the phase leading up to the menopause, when a woman’s hormone balance starts to change. For some women this can start as early as their twenties or as late as their late forties.

There are various symptoms that can be experienced through menopause and can be both physical and/or psychological. They can include: hot flushes, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, memory lapses, anxiety, depression and heart palpitations and each of these symptoms can affect an employee’s comfort and performance at work which is why we developed our menopause policy to ensure you are assisting your female employees in their daily duties. In order to assist those experiencing these symptoms in their daily duties, it is important that your company menopause policy explores making reasonable accommodations to the individuals role or working environment with the aim of reducing the effect that the menopause is having on the individual which is explored in our new menopause policy available on Bright Contracts today! We are committed to ensuring appropriate support and assistance is provided to female employees and that exclusionary or discriminatory practices will not be tolerated. Our menopause policy is fully compliant with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 as well as the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015.

Check out your Bright Contracts today to view the update, or if you would like to become a Bright Contracts user you can download the software and purchase a licence today. 
To access the update, log out of your Bright Contracts company file and log back in, you will then see a yellow bar across the top of the page asking you if you would like to upgrade the content.

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Customer Update, Employee Handbook, Employment Law, Health & Safety, Software Upgrade, Staff Handbook

10
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The Home Stretch: The Final Key Steps in a Safe Employee Return

Following on from our previous blog post 'As Easy As 1,2,3: Key Elements of Safe Return to The Workplace', this blog post covers the next essential steps in your Return to Work Safely Protocol. 

4. Complete Pre-Return to Work Forms

5.Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff 

6.Keeping a log of contact/group work to facilitate contact tracing 

7.Review other Company Policies 

4. Complete Pre-Return to Work Forms

With this step, a pre-return to work form must be completed by employees at least 3 days before their return to work. The form allows employees to self-certify that they do not have Covid-19 symptoms or have not been in close contact with any confirmed or suspected cases over the last 14 days. 

You can get a return to work form template directly from the HSA website. 

In communicating with employees upon their return to work it would also be advisable to establish whether or not they might be considered as a vulnerable worker. There is a HSE webpage that sets out who high risk groups are, you might consider sending this to employees and asking them to notify you if they fall into any of the categories. If they do fall into a vulnerable category you do have a duty of care to take extra precautions to protect that individual. 

5.Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff 

Once staff return to work they should be given Covid-19 induction training. This will include up-to-date public health guidance. Similar to the Lead Representative training, the HSA have an online Covid induction training. Employees can complete the training on their phone, it takes 20 minutes and once completed employees will receive a certificate which you can place on file as a record that the training has been completed. In addition to the HSA training, it would just be recommended that you recap with employees on the specific changes that have been made in your workplace.

6.Keeping a log of contact/group work to facilitate contact tracing 

Next is keeping a log of close contact/group work. The purpose of this being to facilitate contact tracing should it be required.

7.Review other Company Policies 

And finally, when you’ve done all of the above you may want to look at reviewing and updating some of your existing policies. Previously you may have updated your Sick Leave Policy to reflect Covid-19 illnesses, you now might also want to consider putting in place a Working from Home policy if that is the norm in your company. And we have those updated policies available in Bright Contracts. 

As previously mentioned, The HSA are applying renewed energy into workplace compliance so it is important the employers recheck and re-evaluate where they are. Have things become complacent? Are your policies up-to-date? Do you need to remind staff? 

Hopefully if you put many of the steps in place last summer, it shouldn’t take you too long to review. But if you are looking for assistance Bright Contracts can certainly help. 

For those of you who are using our Bright Contracts package, Bright Contracts has been updated with a template Covid-19 response plan which can be found in the 'Optional Sections' tab of the software. It covers everything referenced just now and more.
The policy has been written closely following HSA guidelines and checklists. We would certainly advise that you review the policy and adapt it to include what is relevant in your organisation, but it is a fantastic blue print to ensure you are addressing all the points you need to.
 Related Articles:

 - As Easy As 1,2,3: Key Elements of Safe Return to The Workplace

Our Employees Are Back! – How Do I Return My Employees Safely?

Posted in Coronavirus, Customer Update, Employment Law, Employment Update

2
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

As Easy As 1,2,3: Key Elements of Safe Return to The Workplace

Following on from our previous blog post Our Employees Are Back! – How Do I Return My Employees Safely? this blog post will detail the first 3 key elements of The Return to Work Safely Protocol:

1. Lead Worker Representative

2. Review Risk Assessment & Health & Safety Policies

3. Develop a COVID-19 Response Plan

1. Lead Worker Representative

Each workplace must appoint at least one lead worker representative, who along with management will have responsibility for ensuring that COVID-19 preventative measures are adhered to. 

The Protocol very much promotes collaboration between the employer and employees, and having a Lead Worker Representative is very much key to having everybody working off the same page. 

The HSA are currently running an online course to qualify your chosen employee as a Lead Worker Representative which we encourage you to have your chosen employee complete.

2. Review Risk Assessment & Health & Safety Policies

The next step is to review risk assessments and health & safety policies. In order to pinpoint how and where could the virus be transmitted in your workplace you must look at the hazards, evaluate the risks and put control measures in place. 

If there is a change to how work is carried out, you will need to review your Health & Safety policies. 

3. Develop a COVID-19 Response Plan

The next mandatory point is that all workplaces must develop a Covid-19 Response Plan. This is best thought of as a comprehensive catch-all document that deals with all points of relevance relating to COVID-19 and your workplace. 

The Protocol specifically sets out the information you must include in your Response Plan, this will include:

    • Stating how you will deal with a Suspected Case of Covid-19 in your workplace. You should appoint one employee with responsibility for dealing with suspected cases. You must have a designated isolation area to accommodate someone who may have contracted the virus. The idea being that you have a sterile environment where the employee can go if they are unable to go home straight away.
    • Secondly you will need to reference Cleaning & Hygiene. State how frequently your common areas and frequently touched surfaces are being cleaning. Have you provided sufficient hand washing / sanitisation facilities – all that type of thing. 
    • Reference the measures you have taken to ensure physical distancing.
    • You need to commit to keeping staff informed and up-to-date on what is happening in your workplace and also on public health advice. 
    • Employees have a responsibility here to; they must ensure that they are keeping up-to-date and abiding by the preventative measures being put in place. So it is important to include this in the Response Plan. 
    • And finally mental health. . . mental health is specifically referenced in the Protocol – you will need to reference and discuss how you are supporting employees whether it is through your EAP program or the HAS has provided helpful sources on their website which you should inform your employees are available to them.
For those of you who are using our Bright Contracts package, Bright Contracts has been updated with a template Covid-19 response plan which can be found in the 'Optional Sections' tab of the software. It covers everything referenced just now and more.
The policy has been written closely following HSA guidelines and checklists. We would certainly advise that you review the policy and adapt it to include what is relevant in your organisation, but it is a fantastic blue print to ensure you are addressing all the points you need to. 

Stay tuned for next weeks blog post to read the remainder of the key elements of 'The Return to Work Safely Protocol'.

Related Articles:

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Coronavirus, Customer Update

4
May 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The Vaccine & The New World of Work Webinar

With vaccination rollout currently underway across Ireland employers are beginning to look at returning a number of their employees to the workplace over the coming months which means plans need to be in place and actions need to be carried out to ensure it is as smooth and safe a return as possible.

We recently hosted a webinar recently which detailed for our customers how best to tackle returning their employees to the workplace including implementing a vaccine policy. To view the webinar recording click below:

Bright Contracts has recently updated its software to include a COVID-19 vaccine policy applicable to any business/ industry. This policy is in addition to the COVID-19 Response Plan and Temporary Working From Home Policy currently available on Bright Contracts.

You can avail of a free trial of the software or purchase a Bright Contracts licence to adapt these policies to your business today. If you are looking to adopt or change your HR Software book a free 15-minute online demo to see how Bright Contracts can change your world of HR.

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Contract of employment, Coronavirus, Customer Update, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook, Employment Update, GDPR, Health & Safety, Software Upgrade

18
Mar 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The Parent's Leave & Benefit Act 2019: Extension of Leave

The Parent’s Leave and Benefit Act 2019 came into effect on the 1st of November 2019 and provides for 2 weeks Parent’s Leave with protection of employment for a relevant parent in respect of a child born or adopted on or after the 1st of November 2019. The purpose of the Act is to enable the relevant parent to provide, or assist in the provision of, care to the child.


In acknowledgement of the difficulties experienced by parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cabinet has announced that parents of children born or adopted from the 1st of November 2019 can avail of an additional three weeks of Parent's leave from April 2021 and will be paid at the rate of €245 a week. The benefit is now for five week’s paid leave for each parent up to their child's 2nd birthday which can be taken as either five consecutive weeks or in smaller separate block of a minimum of 1 week duration each.

 

Currently the Parent’s Leave and Benefit Act 2019 sets out the entitlements and criteria applicable to Parent’s Leave available to the relevant parent. Eligibility for Parent’s Leave depends on the employee meeting specific criteria including the following,

  • The employee’s status as a relevant parent,
  • The employee taking the leave within 52 weeks of the birth of the child or in the case of adoption, from the placement date, and,
  • The employee providing certain notice requirements.

Entitlement to leave is for a relevant parent which is:

  • A parent of the child
  • A spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the parent of the child
  • A parent of a donor-conceived child as provided for under section 5 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015
  • The adopting parent or parents of a child
  • The spouse or civil partner of the adopting parent of the child (if the parents have not adopted the child together).

Parent’s Benefit can be applied for at any time to be taken within the first 2 years the child’s life and does not need to be taken directly after maternity leave, paid or unpaid. This leave can be taken within 24 months, up to a child's second birthday or within two years following adoption. This measure will be available from April 2021 as it requires primary legislation to commence the extension of the parent’s leave and the development of the IT system to process the benefit.

Paid parent leave can be taken in addition to existing Maternity Leave, Adoptive Leave, Paternity Leave and Parental Leave rights, as applicable to each "relevant" parent.

To exercise the right to Parent’s Leave, the employee must give their employer at least 6 week’s written notice of their intention to take the leave. To apply for Parent's Leave visit here.

View entitlements under Maternity Benefit and Paternity Benefit.

If you are looking to adopt or change your HR Software please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Book a free 15-minute online demo to see how Bright Contracts can change your world of HR.

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Customer Update, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook, Parental Leave, Staff Handbook

7
Nov 17

Posted by
Laura Murphy

Premature Births and Maternity Benefit

From 1st October 2017, the period for which Maternity Benefit is paid has been extended in cases where a baby is born prematurely. A premature birth is described as one at less than 37 weeks’ gestation. It is estimated that every year in Ireland approximately 4,500 babies are born prematurely.

Currently, under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004, a mother is entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave and 16 weeks’ unpaid leave. Maternity leave normally starts two weeks before the baby’s expected due date or on the date of the birth of the child, should it be earlier.

Under the new amendment, where a child is born prematurely the mother’s paid maternity leave will be extended by the equivalent of the duration between the actual date of birth of the premature baby and the date when the maternity leave was expected to start.  For example, where a baby is born in the 30th week of gestation the mother would have an additional entitlement of approximately seven weeks of maternity leave and benefit i.e. from the date of birth in the 30th week to the two weeks before the expected date of confinement. This additional period will be added on to the mother’s normal entitlement to 26 weeks of maternity leave and benefit, where the mother meets the ordinary qualifying criteria.

Mothers of pre-term babies are advised to contact the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP), email maternityben@welfare.ie, to arrange the additional payment.

Babies surviving from the earliest gestation's, such as 23 weeks, can spend months in a neonatal unit in hospital, by the time a premature baby gets to go home, a mother’s maternity leave can almost be used up. This new change has been heralded as a positive step in supporting parents during a difficult time.

To book a free online demo of Bright Contracts click here
To download your free Bright Contracts trial click here

Posted in Company handbook, Contract of employment, Customer Update, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook, Employment Contract, Wages

11
Oct 17

Posted by
Audrey Mooney

Budget 2018 - Employer Payroll Focus

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

  • There was no change to tax rates for 2018, the standard rate will remain at 20% and the higher rate at 40%.
  • Standard Rate Cut Off Points (SRCOPs) will be increased by €750 from 1st January 2018.

Emergency Basis of PAYE

Employee provides PPS Number:

Where an employee does not provide their PPS Number the higher rate of 40% tax applies to all earnings.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit will be increased by €200 from €950 to €1,150.

Home Carer Tax Credit

The Home Carer Tax Credit will be increased from €1,100 to €1,200.

Universal Social Charge (USC)

  • Exemption threshold remains at €13,000
  • 2.5% rate reduced to 2%, threshold for this rate increased from €18,772 to €19,372
  • 5% rate reduced by 0.25% to 4.75%
  • No change to 8% rate

Medical card holders and individuals aged 70 years and older whose aggregate income does not exceed €60,000 will pay a maximum rate of 2%.

The emergency rate of USC remains at 8%.

PRSI & USC

The Minister outlined his intention to establish a working group in 2018 to carry out a review of the possible integration of PRSI and USC.

National Training Levy

The National Training Levy of 0.7% which is currently collected as part of the employer PRSI contribution will increase to fund further and higher education, the increases are as follows:

  • 0.8% in 2018
  • 0.9% in 2019
  • 1% in 2020

Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI)

There were no changes to general PRSI thresholds or employee PRSI announced in the Budget. However, as the National Training Levy is increasing and it is collected as part of the employer PRSI contribution, employer PRSI will increase as follows:

  • 8.5% increased to 8.6%
  • 10.75% increased to 10.85%

Benefit in Kind (BIK) - Electric Cars

A 0% rate of BIK will apply to electric vehicles provided by an employer to an employee in 2018 which is available for private use. Electricity used by the employee in the workplace to charge the car will also be exempt from BIK.

PAYE Modernisation

PAYE Modernisation will be effective from 1st January 2019. Budget 2018 has allocated €50 million for a project to enhance Revenue's IT capacity and to ensure employer compliance.

National Minimum Wage

The National Minimum Wage will increase from €9.25 to €9.55 per hour in respect of hours worked on or after 1st January 2018.

  • Workers under age 18 will be entitled to €6.69 per working hour
  • Workers in their first year of employment over the age of 18 will be entitled to €7.64 per working hour
  • Workers in their second year of employment over the age of 18 will be entitled to €8.60 per working hour

Social Welfare Payments

There will be a €5 increase in all weekly Social Welfare payments with effect from 26th March 2018. The maximum personal rate of Illness Benefit will be increased to €198 per week. Maternity Benefit and Paternity Benefit will be increased to €240 per week.

Posted in Customer Update