1. What options do employers have and/or what are you seeing in terms of re-opening the workplace e.g. phased returns, rotating shifts, staggered working hours, etc.?
On 4 August 2020, it was announced that Ireland would not move to phase 4 of the Roadmap to Reopening Society and Business on 10 August, as had been planned; phase 3 would remain in place until 31 August 2020. Pubs, hotel bars and nightclubs will remain closed, and the size of crowds gathering will remain at 200 for outdoors and 50 for indoors. Phase 3, which began on 29 June, allowed for contact personal services (e.g. hairdressers, barbers, beauty salons) to open, as well as any remaining retail outlets that were not allowed to open on 8 June. However, it is still advised that anyone who can work from home should continue to do so wherever possible. From midnight Friday 8 August until midnight Saturday 22 August, special measures are in effect for counties Kildare, Offaly and Laois. People in those counties can only travel within the county unless they need to travel for work and the work cannot be done for home. Continued working from home: The Protocol provides that those who can work from home continue to do so. This extends beyond the last phase four in the Irish government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. Working-from-home policies must be developed in consultation with employees. Employers are expected to allow at risk or vulnerable workers to work from home where possible. If they cannot work from home, employers must ensure that at-risk workers are preferentially supported to maintain physical distances of two metres.
- Continued working from home: The Protocol provides that those who can work from home continue to do so. This extends beyond the last phase four in the Irish government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. Working-from-home policies must be developed in consultation with employees. Employers are expected to allow at risk or vulnerable workers to work from home where possible. If they cannot work from home, employers must ensure that at-risk workers are preferentially supported to maintain physical distances of two metres.
- Employee representative: At least one lead employee representative must be appointed and charged with ensuring COVID-19 measures are adhered to in the workplace. The number of representatives will depend on the number of employees in the workplace. Training and a structured framework must be provided to representatives, who will have “regular and meaningful engagement” with their employer about workplace measures.
- Pre-return-to-work form: Employers must issue a pre-return-to-work form to employees for completion at least three days prior to their return to the workplace. The form should seek confirmation that the employee, to the best of their knowledge, has no symptoms of COVID-19, and is not self-isolating or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
- Sick leave policies: Employers must review and revise sick leave policies and communicate with employees any amendments made to existing policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Temporary restructuring of work patterns: Employers must agree through negotiation with employees any temporary restructuring of work patterns required to implement the COVID-19 prevention measures in the workplace.
- Induction training: Training should be provided to all employees and should include the latest advice and guidance on public health, what an employee should do if they develop symptoms, details of how the workplace is addressing the risks, and any other relevant advice.
- Temperature testing: The Protocol provides that employers may carry out temperature tests in line with public health advice. The current public health advice does not recommend temperature testing (outside of certain healthcare settings) but this advice has not been updated since March, and since then the World Health Organisation changed its previous advice to now recommend temperature checking, so it may be that updated advice will issue in light of the Protocol. Data privacy implications should be considered before the introduction of temperature testing.
- Physical distancing: Physical distancing of two metres should be maintained. Employers must organise employees into teams who work and take breaks together. Canteen use and serving times must be staggered. Meetings should be conducted remotely where possible. Where it is not possible to maintain two-metre separation between employees, physical barriers should be installed. If an at-risk or vulnerable worker cannot work from home and must be in the workplace, employers must ensure they are preferentially supported to maintain a physical distance of 2 m. However, employers should enable vulnerable workers to work from home where possible
- Identification of COVID-19 cases: Employers must keep a log of contact or group work to facilitate contact tracing. Information on the symptoms of COVID-19 must be displayed in the workplace. Employees should be trained on the process to follow if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 while at work. Employers must appoint an appropriate manager (or managers) for dealing with suspected cases of COVID-19. A designated isolation area must be identified in the workplace behind a closed door, and with a route that is easily accessible.
- Customer-facing roles: Employers must eliminate physical interaction between employees and customers as far as reasonably practicable through revised working arrangements, for example through the provision of online orders, contactless delivery or managed entry.
- Mental health and wellbeing: Employers should implement support for employees who may be suffering from anxiety or stress. Employers should ensure workers are made aware of and have access to any business-provided employee assistance programmes or occupational health service.
2. Does an employer have to give notice to employees to return to the workplace?
Yes. Employers must give employees notice that they will be expecting them to return to the workplace. As outlined above, employers must issue a pre-return-to-work form to employees for completion at least three days before their return to the workplace. The form should seek confirmation that the employee, to the best of their knowledge, has no symptoms of COVID-19, and is not self-isolating or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
3. Is an employer obliged to consult with employees/representatives about the return to work process?
Employers have to update their COVID-19 response plan, their occupational health and safety risk assessments, and their safety statement, taking into account employees’ individual risk factors. The plans must be developed in consultation with employees and communicated once finalised.
4. Are there any requirements or recommendations for employees to wear or employers to provide masks or other protective equipment in the workplace?
From Monday 10 August, face coverings must be worn by all customers:
- in indoor premises where goods are sold directly to the public;
- at “specified premises” (i.e. shopping centres, libraries, cinemas and cinema complexes, theatres, concert halls, bingo halls and museums); and
- at “specified services and businesses” (i.e. cosmetic nail care or nail styling, hair care or hair styling, tattoo and piercing services, travel agents and tour operators, laundries and dry cleaners, licensed bookmakers).
Staff will also be required to wear a face covering unless there is a partition between them and members of the public, or where there is a distance of 2 m between them and members of the public. Failure to comply with these mandatory rules on face coverings could mean up to six months in prison and a fine of EUR2,500In other employment settings where 2 m worker separation cannot be ensured by organisational means, one of the alternative protective measures that should be put in place is making face masks available to the workers in line with public health advice.
5. When can business travel resume and what are the key considerations for employers?
Business trips and face-to-face interactions should be reduced to the absolute minimum and, as far as reasonably practicable, technological alternatives should be made available (e.g. telephone or video conferencing).
For necessary work-related trips, the use of the same vehicles by multiple workers is not encouraged.
Workers should be encouraged to travel alone if using their personal cars for work or at a maximum be accompanied by one passenger who shall be seated in adherence with physical-distancing guidance.
Workers should be provided with hand sanitisers and cleaning equipment for their work vehicle.
Employers should first take into account the most up-to-date official public health advice and guidance from the Department of Health and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre on how to mitigate the health risk, including measures advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for work-related travel.
6. If schools remain closed, can working parents continue to work from home?
Subject to local capacity crèches and childminders for children of nonessential workers reopened from 29 June 2020. The reopening of the ECCE (free pre-school programme) is planned for 24 August 2020.
Schools will not reopen until the start of the next academic year (September 2020). If an employer has employees who cannot work due to childcare issues, they should consider whether those employees can continue to work from home.
The Irish government’s current advice is that if employees can work from home they should continue to do so. Employers could also encourage employees to use annual leave or offer employees the opportunity to take unpaid leave to cover the period of absence if they are unable to work from home at all.
There is no statutory leave in Ireland that would apply to employees. If a family member is sick, employees could be entitled to force majeure leave. This is paid leave, but is subject to time limits (e.g. three days in 12 months and five days in 36 months).