Business owners in Ireland and other countries are beginning to feel the economic impact of the spread of coronavirus.

The rise in the number of confirmed cases has seen the stock market plummet. Its impact on the tourism industry and the slowdown in production in China has hit many Irish businesses hard.

HR Team partner with one local company who have had to put 50 employees on temporary leave until May because 80% of their business comes from Asia.

More companies will be faced with having to lay off employees.

However, it is important that employers are aware of the law around employees’ rights, notice period, contracted working hours and pay should they need to implement drastic measures.

HR Team Director, Breda Cullen, says: “Employers can enforce short time working by putting an employee on a reduced working week or they can lay them off.

“Both of these measures are only temporary given there is a downturn in business or a shortage of work.

“In order to enforce either measure, it has to be a contractual agreement with the employee.

“A lot of employers will not have that contractual agreement. This is quite relevant at the minute as the virus continues to spread.”

Ms Cullen says employers will need to have a robust contingency plan to deal with the direct and indirect impacts of the virus.

“Zero hour contracts are permitted in Northern Ireland. However, if an employer has a member of staff on a zero-hour contract but they receive hours every week the contract can become difficult to enforce,” she says.

Is an employer entitled to lay off staff in the interest of their safety?

Although it may be detrimental to the economy, workplace health and safety may need to be prioritised. Measures could include closing down business premises temporarily, Ms Cullen says.

“In the interests of keeping their employees healthy and safe,  employers might possibly need to close their business.

“For example, if an employee is confirmed to have coronavirus, employers must seek advice immediately from the public safety authorities.

“A risk assessment will be carried out to examine the contact sequence if a case has been identified. If in that case, employers are being advised to close their business, there is no real legal right to pay.

“If the authorities have not advised that course of action and a business closes anyway, employers may be obliged to pay their employees as there is insufficient rational for the action.

For further advice on the impact of coronavirus on your business advice on staffing issues, please contact us for more information on the issue, call +44 2871 271882 from ROI call: +353 1 695 0749