The NI Executive are continuing to work through plans for additional restrictions to help break the transmission of the Covid virus.  Whilst the Executive are due to meet later today, it is still the case for now that both manufacturing and construction remain essential and can continue to operate subject to ensuring that those who can work from home are working from home and that you have a contemporary Risk Assessment and mitigations in place.  All employers should take time to ensure their risk assessment is updated, staff are engaged and all the appropriate actions around social distancing, cleaning, washing and sanitising facilities are in place and unnecessary visitors are excluded from entering your facilities.  

We will update you if there are any significant changes.

School closures and caring responsibilities / furlough update 

Given the rising number of infections, this week the Minister for Education has confirmed that schools will remain closed until the midterm break with remote learning in place.  Vulnerable children and children of key workers will have access to schools for supervised learning. Only one parent/guardian is required to be a key worker – click here to see what the definition of a key worker is.

Employers have several options:

  1. Work from home if possible: perhaps adjust working pattern to suit caring needs?
  2. Workplace: Agree to work different or reduced hours around caring needs?
  3.  If No, then consider Furloughing the staff member (the furlough scheme ends in April 2021)?
    The employee does not have the right to be furloughed but the employer should carefully consider a rationale for not.
    The guidance on furlough has been recently updated to state
    ‘..can be furloughed, if unable to work, incl. from home or working reduced hours because:
    – have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID, such as caring for children at home due to school & childcare facilities closing, or caring for vulnerable individual in household.’
  4. The employee can use annual leave (NB: those furloughed can also use holiday but the employer MUST top up to full pay).
  5. Parental leave (unpaid) an employee can avail of 18 wks’ leave for each child until 18yrs old and can take up to 4 weeks for each child, each year (but can agree more). 
  6. Time off for dependants (unpaid). An employer could allow a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergency involving dependant.

In any case and route chosen, it is important that you consult with the employee and agree a solution.  Any agreement must be included and written into the employees’ contract (if not already). 

Definition of key workers as outlined by the Department of Education NI

  • Health and Social Care.  This includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, home carers and staff required to maintain our health and social care sector;
  • Education and childcare.  This includes pre-school and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who will remain active during the Covid-19 response including youth workers.
  • Public safety and national security.  This includes civilians and officers in the police (including key contractors), Fire and Rescue Service, prison service and other national security roles;
  • Transport.  This will include those keeping air, water, road and rail transport modes operating during the Covid-19 response;
  • Utilities, and Communication.  This includes staff needed for oil, gas, electricity and water (including sewage) and primary industry supplies to continue during the Covid-19 response, as well as key staff in telecommunications, post and delivery, banking and waste disposal;
  • Financial Services – This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure);
  • Food and other necessary goods.  This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution and sale, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (e.g. hygiene, medical, etc.);
  • Retail. This includes those workers who have been working throughout the pandemic in food retail, for example, and will now extend to those working in other retail businesses permitted to operate by the Executive from June 2020;
  • Other workers essential to delivering key public services such as the National Crime Agency; and
  • Key national and local government including those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response.




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