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14
Oct 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The Budget 2022: What You Need to Know

The 2022 budget was released this week which aims to explain how money will be raised and spent in 2022. The budget saw some important changes across a variety of sectors with some important ones for employers to know which is why we have summarised them for you below so you don't miss out!

  • The National Minimum Wage

The NMW will rise by 30 cent to €10.50 per hour

  • Family

Maternity benefit and parental leave payments to be increased
Parent's Benefit extended by 2 weeks to 7 weeks from July next year

  • Covid Supports

The employment Wage Subsidy Scheme will remain in place, in a graduated format, until 30 April, 2022 - the scheme will close to new employers from 1 January, 2022

  • Working from Home & Income Tax

People who work remotely will see an income tax deduction of 30% of the cost of vouched expenses for heat, electricity and broadband. In his Budget speech, the Minister for Finance said Government policy is to facilitate and support remote work. 

If you would like to read some more detailed information and analysis, or even read the Ministers’ Budget day speeches to the Dáil, visit http://gov.ie/budget to find out more.

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Posted in Coronavirus, Employment Law, Health & Safety, Hybrid Working, News

27
Sep 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Key Features: Updates to the Work Safely Protocol

Following on from our post The Phased Return to the Workplace , further guidance has been given into the recent government changes effect on the Work Safely Protocol. The Protocol sets out the minimum public health measures required in every place of work to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While employers are still expected to comply with their normal health and safety obligations, employers should note that from 22 October 2021 the requirement to work from home will be removed and the statutory regime in place to protect public health will be wound down. Further guidance is expected in advance of that date. So what are some of these key changes:

From 20 September 2021:

  • Businesses can begin a phased and staggered return to workplaces for specific business requirements
  • Two metre social distancing, the wearing of masks in certain circumstances, hygiene measures and appropriate ventilation remain in place
  • Appropriate attendance levels should be maintained in accordance with the Protocol
  • Staggered arrangements should be considered, such as non-fulltime attendance and flexible working hours
  • Each workplace must have a Lead Worker Representative that works with the employer to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, and
  • The requirement for self-isolation / restricted movements will continue for those with symptoms, who should immediately seek a test, those with positive test results, and close contacts of confirmed cases, unless fully vaccinated with no symptoms

From 22 October 2021:

  • Depending on continued satisfactory vaccination rates, the Government intends to remove further statutory restrictions from this date. In particular, the requirement to work from home will be removed, allowing a return to physical attendance in workplaces on a phased and cautious basis, appropriate to each sector.
  • Remote working will become a regular feature of Irish working life as the Government continues to implement Making Remote Work, Ireland’s National Remote Work Strategy, and
  • Legal requirements in relation to social distancing and mask wearing will no longer apply in the majority of circumstances. An emphasis on personal responsibility will be encouraged. This means that employees cannot insist on compliance with social distancing, mask wearing or the provision of sanitising equipment or products in the workplace

With employee's returning one of the most important actions for employers to take is to review their 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 and The Health and Safety Authority has produced checklists to assist in the reopening of workplaces.

In conclusion, the return to the workplace should be conducted in a cautious manner and in consultation with employees. The government is moving towards a focus on personal responsibility from the 22nd of October 2021 and the Government will consult with employers in advance of this date to prepare guidance for the next phase of easing public health restrictions.

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The Phased Return to the Workplace

Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy

Posted in Coronavirus, Customer Update, Employment Update, Health & Safety, Hybrid Working

8
Jul 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

My Employees & The Vaccine: Can I ask for this data?

As vaccinations continue to roll out and employees begin returning to the workplace, employers are now wondering if they can lawfully collect and process information about the Covid-19 vaccination status of their employees. As mentioned in our previous Blog Post Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy, information relating to an individual’s vaccination status is categorised under GDPR as special category personal data and therefore represents part of their personal health record which is why it is afforded additional protections under data protection law.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) has published guidelines addressing the issue of what information employers can process, within these guidelines the DPC have made it clear that they do not consider there is any general legal basis for employers to request the vaccination status of their employees at this time, their reason being “in the absence of clear advice from public health authorities in Ireland that it is necessary for all employers and managers of workplaces to establish vaccination status of employees and workers, the processing of vaccine data is likely to represent unnecessary and excessive data collection for which no clear legal basis exists”.

With that being said, the DPC acknowledges that there may be certain extenuating circumstances, for example those working in frontline healthcare services, where vaccination can be considered a necessary safety measure, therefore in these situations the DPC states that an employer will likely be in a position to lawfully process vaccine data on the basis of necessity.

The current version of the Work Safely Protocol: Covid-19 National Protocol for Employers and Workers highlights that the decision to get a vaccine is entirely voluntary, and that individuals will make their own decisions as to whether they wish to receive it or not. Based on this, in the DPC’s view, this further indicates that covid-19 vaccination data should not be considered a necessary workplace safety measure, and as a result, the processing of vaccine data is unlikely to be necessary or proportionate in an employment context.
These guidelines will be subject to review if the public health advice and laws relating to the nature of the virus, the pandemic and the interplay with vaccination change which is why employers should ensure they closely monitor evolving public health guidance and laws.

To keep up to date on these changes we have recommended the following resources:

- GOV.ie 

- HSE.ie

- World Health Organization 

Bright Contracts has recently been updated to include a Data Protection Policy and Vaccine Policy which covers these consideration points for our customers to include in their employee handbooks, which can be found under the terms and conditions tab.

Related Articles: 

Your GDPR Questions Have Been Answered!

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

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Coronavirus, GDPR, Health & Safety

23
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy

The Vaccine. . . a major topical area and again one that information about is changing by the day. Instead of overloading you with paragraph upon paragraph of text, we thought we’d approach this section as a Q&A which covers all questions you may have about the vaccine policy. 

The first question is - Can you insist that an employee be tested? 

In the absence of a legal requirement for employees to take a test, no individual can lawfully be forced to take one, as such an action could be considered assault given the physical element of taking a test.

Employees who have no symptoms should only be asked to take a test on a voluntary basis. Employees who have no symptoms and are not a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case may query the legal basis of being required to take a covid test before entering the workplace. In this scenario, the purpose of the test should be explained to the employee and if the employee continues to refuse the test, employers need to tread very carefully to avoid employee relations issues. 

Moving onto question 2 - Can you ask an employee if they have been vaccinated? 

While employees are not obliged to provide personal medical information, employers may seek vaccination information on the foundation that they are meeting their legal obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts. It will be up to the employee if they wish to volunteer this information to their employer. If they choose to volunteer this information, then employers should not disclose this information to other employees. As medical data is considered as a Special Category of Personal data, additional data protection regulation apply and must considered. 

Lastly, question 3 - Can you insist that an employee be vaccinated? 

Currently vaccinations are recommended by Irish authorities, but not compulsory for any Irish citizen. Even with the role out of the Covid vaccination amongst medical workers who are employees of the HSE, for these employees the vaccine was not mandatory. With this in mind, it is likely to be very difficult for an employer to argue and defend a case that vaccination is compulsory in a workplace. There is little an employer can do if their employee refuses to get the vaccine however, understanding their concerns is important and finding solutions that meet the business needs without infringing on their rights is crucial in managing their integration into the workplace. Employers need to think carefully about any action they take and consider the potential legal consequences associated with these actions.

If you are an employer, now you are most likely thinking, 'What can I do about the vaccine and my workplace?'. The answer is simple, employees cannot be forced to avail of the vaccine however it is vitally important that employers promote that their employees take a vaccine. The best way to take a proactive stance here is to roll out a vaccine policy. We would advise doing this now to help prepare employees. In creating a vaccine policy you’ll want to consider : 

1. Providing your workforce with a list of resources where they can obtain further information about the vaccination programme, for example, gov.ie, HSE.ie. 

2. Your policy must recognise that the decision to avail of the vaccine is the individual's choice however the employer encourages their workforce to make an informed decision through: 

Reading information about COVID-19 vaccinations via official sources; 

Listening to the information the HSE provides when offering a vaccine; and 

Being cautious of misinformation around COVID-19 vaccinations by unreliable sources. 

3. Detail whether your employee's will be paid or un-paid for the leave to attend their appointment.

4. If an employee feels unwell after their vaccination they will be instructed to follow The Company's sick leave policy. 

Lastly, we would recommend :

5. That employers include a section in the vaccine policy about employee's respecting others privacy and not having open discussions about the vaccine with colleagues.

Bright Contracts has recently been updated to include a vaccine policy which covers these consideration points for our customers to include in their employee handbooks, which can be found under the terms and conditions tab. 

Related Articles:

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

- Supporting Female Employees: Implementing a Menopause Policy

Posted in Coronavirus, Employment Law, Health & Safety

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?

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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

21
May 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

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

Over a year ago now, thousands of employees left their offices and relocated to home offices. As the year went on we began to see different trends in working patterns emerging. I suppose, one of the more worrying of those trends is the fact that whilst working from has had its benefits in terms of flexibility, it has also blurred the lines between work and home life, according to a LinkedIn survey, employees working from home are on average putting in an extra 38 hours work per month. So effectively an extra week per month. The same survey also revealed that home working left employees feeling stressed out. With mental health being one of the key topics of the last year, this is something that needs to be taken seriously.
So how do employers ensure they return their employees to work safely and also ensure their mental health isn’t effected? . . . Well let us be your guiding light and help you navigate through this.
As our customers look to bring their staff back to work, we have received questions on the Return to Work Safely Protocol and also questions on the practicalities of bringing staff back. Some staff will have not worked yet in 2021, they are at home perhaps in a very small bubble – so it is probably a fair assumption to say that there will be some anxieties from staff in relation to returning to the workplace. So it is important for employers to take some time to consider how best to manage the process of returning to work.
To give you an example:
A staff member is refusing to come back to work. What do I do? So the first thing to ask here is what are the individual’s reasons for not wanting to return to work.
Do they have health & safety concerns?
People have been safe at home for a long time now and there is an understandable anxiety amongst some people about going back into the workplace. If this is the reason, then you need to show to the employee how you have met the requirements of the Protocol and how you are taking preventative measures in the workplace. As an employer you have a duty to ensure employee’s safety, health and welfare so it is important that you are taking the right measures and then able to put your employee’s minds at ease. The Return to Work Protocol promotes communication and collaboration between employers and employees. Employees need to be able to show employees the preventative measures they have taken. Perhaps details of risk assessments completed. If there is a particular employee with specific health concerns, you will need to take into account their specific risk factors which you may consult with the employee on.
Lastly, are they afraid to travel on public transport?
Be open to suggestions here as much as possible such as staggering work times in order for them to avoid peak transport times which will mean packed public transport so as previously mentioned be open to suggestions as much as possible.

The Return to Work Safely Protocol was originally published last May, it was then revised and a new version reissued in November 2020 and again in May 2021 to include new learnings on Covid in the workplace. The Protocol sets out a number of measures in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Health Service Authority (HSA) also has responsibility for compliance. Overall it has been reported that through their covid-19 work safely inspections there has been a high level of compliance but there has been concerns raised by Public Health around some workplace social contacts where employees are more likely to drop their guard. Specifically, these are around the following issues:
• wearing a face mask
• maintaining physical distancing
• hand hygiene
• cleaning common touch areas
• having visible public health messaging around the workplace
• gathering at lunch breaks
The HSA has advised that employers review the Work Safely Protocol, to ensure that they are fully adhering to its recommendations. They would also encourage employers to re-engage with staff to ensure they are reminded not to attend work if they have COVID-19 symptoms. So what is in the Protocol? There are 7 Key considerations, which are:

  1. Lead Worker Representative
  2. Review Risk Assessment & Health & Safety Policies
  3. Develop a COVID-19 Response Plan
  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

These will be covered each week beginning from Monday the 24th of April in blog posts so keep an eye out!

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Posted in Bright Contracts News, Coronavirus, Health & Safety

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

11
Sep 17

Posted by
Lauren Conway

Employee awarded maximum unfair dismissal compensation

The Labor Court has recently ruled that a driver was unfairly dismissed after he was involved in three road accidents. The driver was awarded €72,042, equating to two years remuneration - the maximum compensation which could be awarded.

Background

Mr. Coughlan was employed as a van driver for DHL for 11 years. In 2012 he was involved in a road accident to which he received a written warning. In 2013 he was involved in a second road accident where he received a final warning. The warnings were ‘live’ for 12 months, after which they expired. The claimant was involved in a third road accident in 2015 to which damages to the van amounted to €2,500. By that time both previous warnings had expired and he was brought into a disciplinary hearing for “failure to protect and safeguard company property”.

During the hearing Mr. Coughlan took responsibility for his misjudgment which led to the accident. Throughout the hearing numerous references were made to the expired incidents. Mr. Coughlan was dismissed with immediate effect for gross misconduct on the basis that he had failed to protect and safeguard company property.

Finding

The WRC found the dismissal unreasonable and ordered reinstatement. At the appeal to the Labor Court, DHL argued that they had no other choice but to dismiss Mr. Coughlan as their faith in his driving abilities was lost. Although his previous warnings had expired, the company felt that they had to take his entire working history into consideration. The Court determined that the 2015 incident, in isolation to the previous warnings was not sufficient to dismiss. It also took into consideration the company’s failure to consider alternative positions within the organisation for Mr. Coughlan.

Learning Points

This case highlights something we see time again, the importance of practicing fair procedures when considering dismissal. It highlights the importance of employers showing that they had considered alternative roles where possible before dismissal – something that is often noted in unfair dismissal cases. Lastly, the enormous amount awarded to Mr. Coughlan reminds employers of the costly consequence unfair dismissal can have on their business.

Posted in Company handbook, Contract of employment, Dismissals, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook, Employment Contract, Employment Tribunals, Health & Safety, Pay/Wage, Staff Handbook

29
Jun 17

Posted by
Lauren Conway

€10K awarded to steeple worker who was told to “wing it” with no harness

The Workplace Relations Commissioner has awarded €10k to a worker for unfair dismissal when he was dismissed after suffering a back injury while carrying out work on a scaffold in with no safety equipment.

The complainant’s role was to make digital prints and then fit the products to buildings or vehicles. If the job required two people, then the complainant was accompanied by the respondent otherwise he went on his own.

In September of 2015 while working on site in Belfast he was “required to work at heights without a harness”. He said he was also told to operate a cherry picker even though he did not hold a license to do so. The court also heard that later in the month the complainant was previously told to ‘wing it’ when doing installation work on a church steeple with no harness.

In November 2015 the complainant injured his back while working on a scaffold with no safety harness and was on certified sick leave for 9 days. He said that while he was on sick leave he saw his job being advertised, the ad was later removed when he raised concerns with his boss.

In July 2016 while back on site, the complainant said he left a job he believed to be a health and safety risk when he was asked to work at a height of 15m without a harness. He later made a formal complaint to his employer but left 15 minutes into the meeting for being verbally abused for not completing the job. The complainant said he was constructively dismissed and had not worked since.

Finding

The officer who heard the case said that she found the complaint was “well founded” based on the uncontested evidence. The respondent didn’t attend the hearing. She directed the respondent to pay the worker €10,000 within 42 days of the ruling.

Learning Points

There are many things to take away from this case, first and foremost that the health and safety of an employee under no circumstance should ever be compromised. This case highlights the importance for employers in all industry's to carry out their own risk assessments. Employers should also note the importance of not only having a clear grievance and dispute procedures for staff to reference but for the employer to follow them correctly.

BrightPay - Payroll Software
Bright Contracts - Employment Contracts and Handbooks

Posted in Company handbook, Contract of employment, Dismissals, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook, Employment Contract, Health & Safety, Sick Leave/Absence Management, Staff Handbook

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