Obligations on Employers – The COVID-19 Protocol
The National Return to Work Safely Protocol (“the Protocol”) was published on Saturday, 9 May 2020. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys added that “this Protocol is mandatory and it applies to all workplaces right across the economy”.
Accordingly, it is incumbent on employers to ensure that they are ready to comply with the Protocol at each of the staged phases of the roadmap under which Irish businesses will reintroduce their employees to the workplace. The Protocol describes the steps that employers and employees are to take in order to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. It sets out a range of guidelines to include:
- Getting back to work
- The mandatory steps to be taken both by employers and employees
- Engagement, communication and training
- Pre-Return to work forms and their mandatory contents
- Hygiene etiquette, physical distancing and infection prevention measures.
- Where the two metre worker separation cannot be ensured, alternative protective measures should be put in place and examples are provided.
- The Role of the Health and Safety Authority as Lead Agency
The Protocol is a living document, as a result of which employers will need to keep up to date with the measures introduced by the Government and be flexible to change. Employers will need to be careful not to bind themselves to long-term commitments to employees to which they cannot later adhere.
It is well established in Irish law that employers have a general duty to their employees to protect their health, safety and wellbeing, together with the health of those members of the public entering the workplace or interacting with the employees or other service providers.
The Health and Safety Authority has published useful guidance for employers which should be closely studied and circulated to staff which can be found at:
In addition, the Authority has issued a workplace protection and improvement guide intended to assist employers managing business continuity issues during the pandemic:
As a result, protecting the health and safety of employees and others in the workplace as they return to work will be paramount for employers. In addition, employers and, where applicable, their landlords have obligations under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act and the Occupiers Liability Act 1995 to ensure that the workplace, to include all means of access to and egress from the premises is free from risk.
It may be necessary to conduct a risk assessment of the property to ensure, for example, that elevators are used by no more than one person at any time or to create a one way system for occupants using the building.
Failure to comply with the Protocol is likely to provoke HR issues; regular communication with staff will be imperative as the guidelines mutate as non-compliance with the onerous requirements of the protocol in an already challenging working landscape may result in the employer being presented with unwanted and potentially expensive claims. We recommend that employers review their employers’ liability insurance cover to ensure that they have cover in place to meet the risks posed by COVID-19 and that their contracts of employment and employee handbooks are modified where possible to reflect the changing working environment.
We are available to advise on any issues arising from the Government Protocol or on any other issues of concern to our clients.
For further information please contact Liam Collins or Geraldine Stack – Geraldine.email@example.com