COVID-19: Return to Work, Steps for Employers and Employees

On the 1st May 2020 the Government announced a roadmap for reopening businesses. The five-stage plan puts in place a timetable to ease the COVID-19 restrictions and to reopen our economy and society as follows:

 

  • Phased return of outdoor workers and remote working continues for all that can do so;
  • Limited return to onsite working subject to compliance capability and remote working continues for all that can do so;
  • Return to low interaction work and remote working continues for all that can do so;
  • Return to work where employees cannot remotely work, staggered hours and remote working continues for all that can do so;
  • Phased return to work across all sectors however remote working continues for all that can do so;

 

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005

 

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 places a statutory obligation on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees at work so far as is reasonably practicable.

COVID-19 poses a significant threat to employees’ health and safety, which applies whether the employees are working in the office or remotely from home. The 2005 Act requires employers to, amongst other things, provide:-

 

  • A safe workplace;
  • A safe method of work;
  • Safe equipment;
  • Appropriate supervision and training and
  • To provide protective clothing and equipment to employees;

 

Risk Assessment

Employers should conduct a risk assessment to identify measures to protect staff, minimise risk to their health and safety and in particular prevent (to the extent possible) their exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Certain employees may be more at risk (e.g. employees whose duties include human contact). Employers should take appropriate measures such as providing protective equipment e.g. face masks, visors, hand sanitiser and ensure staff are frequently provided with appropriate up to date information and education in relation to any preventative steps that the employee should take such as:-

 

  • Maintain social distancing;
  • Regular hand washing;
  • Cleaning frequently touched surfaces;
  • Hand sanitising;
  • Self-isolation if symptomatic;

 

When employees are working remotely from home, a risk assessment should be conducted to assess what risks are posed by this so that employees can mitigate these risks such as in relation to feelings of isolation and stress and data protection issues.

 

In the event of a prosecution penalties can include a maximum of €3,000,000 fine and/or two years imprisonment per offence and criminal conviction and company directors, managers or officers can also be prosecuted personally.

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