Industry across every sector has been affected by the pandemic and, according to Ibec, most businesses are looking at a phased return of employees over the next three months.
But it’s not just a case of opening the doors and letting everyone back in, as there could be, according to Richard Grogan, specialist in employment law, a “potential minefield” of possible litigation issues.
“The data protection commissioner has been very clear that you cannot ask if an employee has been vaccinated, even in a circumvent way like asking how they found the process,” he said. “So when workplaces open up again, everyone is going to have to keep employees two metres apart, continue with hand washing, sanitising and ensuring that everyone wears masks while they move around.
“This is going to cause significant issues for lots of employers, and I believe there is a car crash of litigation about to come down the tracks.”
The Dublin-based legal expert says he would advise employers to become very aware of the law and seek advice.
“Employers are going to have to be very up to date with employment law,” he said. “They should get legal advice and make sure they apply and stick to the rules. A lot of businesses will not be able to open fully and this is down to the fact that there has been no clear and definitive advice from the government – employers have been hung out to dry by politicians who have not given advice, and this makes things very difficult going forward.”
Cait Lynch, HR adviser with Isme says employers must also be familiar with the work safely protocols published last year and recently updated. And they should communicate their plans and Covid procedures to all employees, ensure they are trained on new health and safety procedures and know why they are being implemented.
“This document (regarding work safely protocols) outlines the current guidelines and documentation that employers must have prepared in advance of employees returning to a workplace,” she said. “And if employers are in the position where they are able to offer some flexible or remote working, policies and procedures should be developed and issued in relation to these, to avoid any confusion.
“Employers should also ensure that employees are aware of the publicly available supports and advice, should they require them.”
So, as businesses continue to reopen and employers put plans and measures in place, Sven Spollen-Behrens, director of the SFA, says they must re-examine potential risks and hazards through risk assessments, implement control measures and comply with the national health guidelines. But they should also be aware of the emotional aspects of returning to work.
“Employers should actively engage with employees to communicate the measures they have taken to mitigate the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and be understanding and flexible throughout the return-to-work process,” he said.