Covid 19 – Returning to the workplace – A guide for Employers

As the country reopens and restrictions ease the question on many employers mind is what happens if my employee contracts COVID19 when at work.  The Government announced recently that a phased return to the office would commence from the 20th of September with the Tanaiste being quoted those employees have to honour their employment contracts and return to the workplace if so requested by their employers.  However, no guidelines have yet to be put in place with Employers left to their own devices to bring employees back to the workplace.  So what happens if an employee contracts Covid 19 after commencing a return to the workplace?  What are the legal ramifications for Employers?  Do they face liability and the legal proceedings?  For Insurers, do they have to rethink their public liability policies with their policy holders?

This should not necessarily be such a headache.  After all, under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the Employers are obliged to create and maintain a safe and healthy work environment.  This requirement is absolute.  Indeed, if an employee makes such a claim against an employer in relation to the contraction of Covid 19 then they must establish that they contracted it at work as opposed to on public transport on the way to work, or at a social event over the weekend.  This will be quite difficult for a claimant to prove.  The Employer can enter a robust defence to say that they put in every measure they could in place.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has published COVID-19 advice for employers. There is specific advice for workplaces where:

  • There is no occupational exposure health risk to COVID-19
  • The nature of the work poses an occupational exposure health risk to COVID-19, such as healthcare and laboratory settings

Employers are advised to follow the latest public health advice and must:

  • Identify measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection
  • Implement suitable control measures in the workplace.

These guidelines are a reflection of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work legislation and an employer who has had solid legal advice will have such measures already implemented.  If you are an Employer concerned by the issues raised in this article, contact our Employment Law Specialist Anthony Shields in MDM Solicitors at 021 2390620 or anthony.shields@mdmsolicitors.ie who will  advise you.

Leave a Reply