[ARANGUEZ, 18 June 2020] — Given the recent increase in reported cases of Covid-19, the Employers’ Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ECA) is urging Employers to commit to consistently doing their part in slowing the spread of the virus.

All business establishments, regardless of size, should be strongly enforcing physical distancing and hand-washing or sanitising protocols at their establishments and offices, doing temperature checks before entry and require the mandatory use of face masks by customers and service providers.

Additionally, employers should mandate adherence to the same protocols among members of staff. These should include minimising or avoiding closed meetings, shaking of hands, sharing of utensils and other forms of close congregation. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Covid-19 is not specifically covered but the general responsibility of employers to ensure a safe working environment for their staff and other visitors to their establishments is still applicable, as outlined in Sections 6 and 7 of the OSH Act. Where recommended physical spacing is not possible, employers are strongly encouraged to consider implementing staggered hours, rostering, shift systems or other forms of flexible work schedules so as to minimise contact among members of staff at this time.

Remote work is also an available option, providing that job duties allow for such arrangements and that proper systems are implemented for the monitoring of work schedules, measurement of deliverables and protection of sensitive company and customer data. The agreed terms and conditions of employment between employer and employee or employer and registered majority unions (RMU), where existing, must first be consulted before making any adjustments to employees’ established work arrangements and the payment of salaries/wages.

Where there is no RMU and provisions/policies for adjustment of working hours are already in effect, such provisions/policies must be considered and where they cannot be honoured due to Covid-19 realities, alternative arrangements should be put forward to employees in a consultative fashion. In general, it is a good practice for Employers to reinforce sick leave policies and the appropriate use of sick leave whenever there is heightened sensitivity to health issues in the environment, such as cold and flu season, and in this case, Covid-19.

Employees should be reminded that in avoiding possible spread of this, or any “virus” in the workplace, they should, in accordance with Company policy, utilise sick leave or other appropriate leave provisions available to them, should they begin to feel ill and/or suspect that such illness could be symptomatic of Covid-19.Covid-19 sick leave and quarantine periods should be treated as normal sick leave and relevant 2020 eligibilities applied. However, employers are encouraged to exceptionally pay full salaries to quarantined and/or confirmed Covid-19 patients where an employee’s sick leave eligibilities do not fully cover the leave required at this time. Where employers are financially strapped and cannot pay the sick leave period in excess of eligibilities, the employee may apply for National Insurance Sickness Benefit (NI-15 benefit) to cover the period of unpaid sick leave. Employers in this instance, may consider paying for half or the full difference between the NI benefit and the employee’s full salary/wage, based on financial realities.Finally, employers are once again encouraged to develop a business continuity plan (BCP) where none currently exists or sensitise employees about existing business continuity plans where national work restrictions or stoppages are mandated by public authorities. According to a membership survey conducted in April, 60% of responding companies did not have a BCP in place, which can present some difficulty in maintaining operations during a lockdown or recovering quickly after a lockdown

.###  For further information, kindly contact: Ronald Ramlogan, Public Relations and Research Department.

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