Variation in Employment Contracts

All employees are entitled under the relevant provisions of employment legislation to written terms and conditions of their employment. This normally takes the shape of an employment contract. However, not all employees have a formal written contract, which sets out all of the relevant terms and conditions of their employment. Most modern employment contracts will include provisions that allow the employer to reduce the employees’ hours either to short-time working or to temporary layoff, in the event of a temporary reduction in business. As a first step, the employer should consult the employment contract (if any) to identify whether the contract provides for the employer reducing the staff member's hours, either partially or fully, during the crisis. If there is no written employment contract or there is no term allowing the employer to reduce the employees’ hours, the normal employment law provisions prevail. 

Employers are not at liberty to unilaterally reduce an employees’ hours, even in such extenuating circumstances as the current crisis.  An employee could legitimately take a claim against the employer under the Payment of Wages Act to have any reduction in their wages made good, possibly at the end of the crisis.  It is therefore imperative that any employer who seeks to reduce employees’ hours either by short-time working or temporary layoff must have the explicit written consent of their staff member concerned to such a reduction.  We have enclosed as an appendix, a draft letter, which could be used by the business to obtain the consent of their employees to a temporary reduction in their hours by way of short-time working or temporary layoff. As a first step, the employer should ensure that they have permission or authority to reduce staff hours both under the terms of the employment contract or by way of a separate letter, specifically issued for the purpose and signed by the employee in question.

Once the employer has satisfied themselves that they have the power to place employees on either short-time working or temporary layoff, they must complete a Form RP9, which is a form that gives notice to the employees of their intention to place them on either short time or temporary layoff.  This form is completed by the employer, a copy should be retained for company records, with the original provided to the staff member. This is the formal notification that the staff member has been placed on either short-time working or temporary layoff and the form itself is self-explanatory in that there are certain time limits that must be observed by both the employee and the employer in relation to various claims.  

 

A copy of Form RP9 is available for download below.

Form RP9

Short Time Working, Temporary Layoff, and Social Welfare Benefit

Where an employee has been put on short-time working they will continue to be paid under the payroll system, in accordance with the normal PAYE rules. Where they have been placed on temporary layoff, they will cease to receive any further pay during this period.

Once an employee has had their hours reduced by more than half, they are entitled to short-time working support.  There is a downloadable leaflet from the Department of Social Welfare which indicates the terms and conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to qualify for a short time working support. This document is available below as a download. The key points are that the employee must have had their hours reduced by half or more by the employer. In practice, this includes being put on at least a 3 day week or less.  Furthermore, this Social Welfare benefit is not taxable in the hands of the employee as it is designed to be a temporary measure. 

On the basis that the employer puts the employee on the short-time working arrangement for say a 2 day week, it follows that the employee is available for work for the other 3 days of the normal 5 day working week. Under the short time working support arrangements, the employee can claim Social Welfare benefits for these 3 days that they are no longer being employed by their principal employer.

The Department of Social Welfare has introduced a new simplified 1-page application form for Social Welfare benefit to aid workers who have been either temporarily laid off, as a result of Covid 19 or indeed, had been put on short-time working. This form simply requires the employee's PPS number, their personal details, and their bank details to be completed, for the form to be signed by the employee and submitted to the Department of Social Welfare.  The payment is anticipated to be €350 for a 5 day week. 

 

A copy of Covid 19 UP is available to download below.

https://www.gov.ie/en/service/be74d3-covid-19-pandemic-unemployment-payment/

The temporary arrangements governed by the Covid 19 form are anticipated to last for a period of up to a maximum of 6 weeks. Employees are required to make a full claim to the Department of Social Welfare in respect of their correct entitlements using Form UP1, which is the long-form that needs to be completed by the employee in order to claim either jobseeker benefit or jobseekers allowance.  Jobseekers benefit is a benefit payable to employees both for the period of unemployment for themselves personally and also for qualifying adult dependants and qualifying children dependants. Where the payment entitlement of the employee exceeds the original €350 as covered by the Covid 19 form, there will be an uplift once the correct UP1 form has been processed by the Department. Where the employer has placed the employee on short-time working, the employer must also complete a separate form UP14, which indicates the fact that the employee has been placed on short-time working and gives details of the hours originally prior to reduction and the new reduced hours. This is to facilitate the Department of Social Welfare in calculating the correct assistance either under jobseekers benefit or job seekers allowance for the relevant employee, taking into account the fact that they still have a certain level of paid employment with the employer.

 

A copy of Form UP14 is available for download below.

Form UP14

 

A copy of Form UP1 is also available for download below.

Form UP1

It is recommended that if the employer is placing their employees on short-time working then in addition to submitting the Covid 19 form, they also submit the UP14 form, which clearly sets out the nature of the short time working arrangement, thus enabling the employee to claim the correct job seekers benefit or jobseekers allowance.

 

Wages Subsidy Scheme operated by the Revenue Commissioners

On 24 March 2020, the Government announced new measures to provide financial support to Irish workers affected by the Covid-19 crisis. As part of these measures, Revenue will operate a Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme. The scheme, enables employees, whose employers are affected by the pandemic, to receive significant supports directly from their employer.

The main features of the scheme are;

  • The subsidy paid to the employer of 70% of net wages (subject to limits)

  • Employer retains employee on the payroll. Employers encouraged to top up subsidy

  • No income tax or USC shall be applied initially to the subsidy (may be applied later in the year)

  • No Employee PRSI on subsidy or top-up

  • Employers PRSI on the top-up of 0.5%

To qualify employers must;

  • Retain employees on payroll

  • Have 25% or more drop in turnover

  • Be affected by Covid 19 crisis

  • Be unable to pay normal wages and normal outgoings fully.

Here is the link to the Revenue guidelines regarding the scheme

https://revenue.ie/en/corporate/communications/covid19/temporary-covid-19-wage-subsidy-scheme.aspx 

 

Conclusion

As of 9 am Friday 27th March the rules concerning the Revenue Wages Subsidy Scheme are very unclear and a number of employment law specialists and business advocacy groups are recommending that employers do not sign up for the scheme as it is presently drafted.

Instead, companies that are affected should avail of the short-time working and or temporary layoff options and direct their staff to the DEASP to claim Covid-19 Jobseekers benefit. Given that this has now been raised to €350 per week this option will be appropriate to many lower-paid staff on a pre-crisis gross annual salary of €24,000 or lower.

It is unfortunate that employers cannot give clarity to their staff in these uncertain times but our clear advice is to avoid any formal decision or communication with staff until there is greater clarity.

Download Short Term work support booklet below:

Click here to download this page as PDF

Covid-19 advice notes on Employees

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