Matheson recently hosted a webinar which was attended by a large number of employers from various different sectors. During the webinar the participants had an opportunity to take part in a survey and answer questions in relation to working from home, employees moving to another jurisdiction and other topical issues arising out of the pandemic.
The main findings of the survey are outlined below.
A large majority of the participants (88%) reported that they have not advised staff that they will possibly be working from home until summer 2021. This is obviously an issue that a lot of employers are still trying to work out their strategy on and the Government’s five level plan announced in mid-September has introduced new criteria that must be considered. While not expressly called out, it is apparent from the new plan that the Irish Government does not envisage employees going back to the office anytime soon and that working from home in different guises will be required for possibly the next six to nine month period. The poll result is not surprising as employers have only received clarity approximately a month ago in relation to the various different levels of the new Government plan.
Only 16% of the participants confirmed that they are conducing testing on site, while the vast majority of the participants are not conducing any level of employee testing on site. This is an interesting development as in June the vast majority of employers were actively considering and enquiring about testing. However, it appears from further engagement with clients on this that a lot of employers decided to not go ahead with testing on site due to the data protection complexities and risk involved.
A separate growing concern is the potential for significant tax issues in having employees previously based in Ireland based overseas for a lengthy period of time, as many foreign national employees moved to their home country during the initial lockdown. 39% of the participants indicated that they have employees who have moved to another jurisdiction since the start of the pandemic. Relocating to a different jurisdiction might create a number of employment and tax risks that employers should be mindful of, such as employees becoming entitled to mandatory employment rights in the country they have relocated to and payroll tax obligations for employers, etc. Only half of the participants reported that they had taken steps to manage tax and employment risks related to employees working from other jurisdictions. We have also seen certain large employers require employees currently abroad to return to Ireland, even if likely to be working from home to get ahead of this problem. As time goes on, this will only become a bigger issue for employers that fail to take steps now to manage the issue.
Another response to our poll relates to self-isolating after returning from foreign holidays. 23% of the participants have required employees returning from foreign holidays to take the 14 day restricted movement period as annual leave, whereas 13% of the participants have required such employees to take the 14 day period as unpaid leave. It is surprising on one level that more employers have not communicated a requirement to take the 14 day restrictive period as either one of annual leave or unpaid leave. However, the possible explanation to this is that because so many employees can work from home, it has not become an issue.