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Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020: A Briefing Note


Monday, March 30, 2020

On 27 March 2020, the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020 was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins. The purpose of this Briefing Note is to summarise the provisions of the Act for Philip Lee clients.

1. Why is the legislation being introduced?

The legislation has been introduced by the Government to make provision for emergency measures to mitigate social effects and economic consequences as a result of COVID-19.

The Act provides for the following:

  • The introduction of a Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme to maintain business, jobs and incomes until normal business resumes.
  • Amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004-2019 to prevent the termination of residential tenancies and rent increases for the duration of the crisis.
  • Amendments to the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 to extend the time-periods under which a person who has been laid off or kept on short-time due to COVID-19 can claim a redundancy payment from their employer.
  • A process to facilitate the recruitment of retired health sector workers.
  • Amendments to Mental Health legislation to protect the rights of patients and facilitate the ongoing operation of the Mental Health Tribunals through the crisis.
  • Amendments to the Defence Act 1954 to facilitate the re-enlistment of former members to fill certain critical positions within the Permanent Defence Force.
  • The setting aside of various statutory deadlines in relation to planning and building control systems to avoid breach of deadlines and compromise of systems in the event of further impacts of COVID-19 on the community or workforce.
  • Amendments to Civil Registration legislation for the duration of the crisis with the purpose of minimising the spread of COVID-19.

2. Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme

This scheme involves the State making a direct contribution to employee remuneration, up to a certain limit. It will run for a 12 week period from 26 March 2020.

The intention is to try to maintain employment relationships by keeping employees in employment.

The State will pay:

a. Initially, up to a maximum of €410/week for each qualifying employee who makes up to €38,000/year gross.

b. From April 2020, 70% of an employee’s take home income up to a maximum of €410/week for each employee who makes up to €38,000/ year gross.

c. The weekly contribution will be capped at net €350 for incomes between €38,000 and €76,000 gross.

 

This scheme is available for employers who retain staff on payroll. Some of the staff may be temporarily not working or some may be on reduced hours and/or reduced pay.

To avail of this scheme, employers must self-declare to Revenue that they have experienced
significant negative economic disruption due to COVID-19.

Specifically, employers must:

  • be experiencing significant negative economic disruption due to COVID-19;
  • be able to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of Revenue, a minimum of a 25% decline in turnover during the period of 14 March 2020 to 30 June 2020;
  • be unable to pay normal wages and normal outgoings fully; and
  • retain their employees on the payroll.

Employers are free to top up payments to employees. In fact, they are being encouraged to do so. It is hoped that employers will use their best efforts to keep employee salaries as normal as possible.

3. Residential tenants

The Act introduces a number of measures with the aim of mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on
residential tenants.

The Act provides that:

a. Landlords cannot serve notice of termination on a tenant during the emergency period. Any      such notice served during this time will be invalid.

Where a notice of termination has been served on a tenant prior to the emergency period, this notice shall be suspended for the duration of the period and shall resume once the emergency period expires.

b. Where there is a non-payment of rent, the RTA requires a landlord to serve a 14 day notice in writing on the tenant declaring the amount of rent due and unpaid before serving a notice of termination.

The new legislation now extends this notice period to 28 days. However it will not be valid unless served after the emergency period.

c. Any increase in rent (whether notified to the tenant before or during the emergency period) shall not take effect during this time.

d. Any tenant upon whom a notice of termination has been served prior to the emergency period shall be entitled to remain in occupation of the dwelling until the expiration of the emergency period unless:

  • They are required to vacate the dwelling in accordance with a determination of an adjudicator.
  • They are required to vacate the dwelling in accordance with a determination of a tribunal of the Residential Tenancies Board.

4. Changes to Redundancy Payments legislation

The Act brings about significant changes to the rights of employees who are on lay-off and short-time in circumstances where there is a cessation or reduction in the work normally carried out by those employees and the employer reasonably believes that the cessation or reduction will be of a temporary nature.

In normal circumstances, an employee can serve notice on the employer of their intention to claim a redundancy payment where they have been laid off or placed on short-time for a period of four or more consecutive weeks, or for a series of six weeks within a thirteen week period.

However, Part 8 of the 2020 Act recognises that it may not be possible for employers to determine when an employee may be able to return to work.

Accordingly, Part 8 provides that employees on layoff or short time will not be in a position to claim a
redundancy payment where the lay off or short time is as a result of measures required to be taken by his or her employer in order to comply with, or as a consequence of, Government policy to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of infection of COVID-19.

The emergency period for these changes is the period beginning 13 March 2020 and ending 31
May 2020.

5. Health professionals

The Act now provides for a smoother and more simplified process of recruiting retired health sector workers who wish to respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

The relevant professions include:

  • Dentists
  • Health and Social Care Professionals (such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, radiographers, speech and language therapists etc.)
  • Pharmacists
  • Doctors
  • Nurses and Midwives

6. Mental health during this crisis

The Act facilitates the ongoing operation of mental health tribunals and increases the number of psychiatrists available to the tribunal. The period in which the tribunal must make decisions on individual cases is also extended by the Act.

In response to the crisis and to minimise physical contact, the Act also allows for one-member tribunals and for a second psychiatrist to examine a patient remotely.

7. Defence Forces

Legislation which allows retired soldiers to re-join the Defence Forces has been in the pipeline for a number of months and has now been fast tracked under the new Act in response to COVID-19.

The amendments introduced will enable former members of the Defence Forces to re-join at the rank they left with no penalties.

8. Statutory deadlines in relation to planning and development

The Act provides that deadlines in relation to the following shall be disregarded:

  • Planning and Development Act 2000,
  • Certain sections of the Building Control Act 1990,
  • The Derelict Sites Act 1990,
  • Part 2 of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015,
  • Portions of the Strategic Housing legislation.

9. Civil Registration

The amendments in relation to civil registration aim to ensure that this service can effectively continue throughout the duration of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Requirements to attend in person before the registrar to register a life event have been temporarily removed by the Act in order to facilitate self-isolation and social distancing.

The intention is that the necessary particulars required for a registration can be submitted by email or by post and that a signature can be obtained when the emergency has passed.

 

For further information or advice, please contact Patrick Walshe.

Article written with the assistance of Sarah O’Reilly.


Author

Patrick Walshe

PARTNER


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