A gradual return to workplaces could take place from September 20, under the government’s new reopening roadmap announced this evening.
Corporate guidelines will be drafted in the coming weeks with the help of trade unions and business groups, according to Tanisti Leo Varadkar.
Under current guidelines, remote work is still advised where possible.
Currently, government public health advice for managing offices and other workplaces during the pandemic is included Work Safely Protocol.
Varadkar said this document will be reviewed with advice on how companies can return to the office in a safe manner.
“We also want flexibility as well because every office is different, and every business is different.
“One of the things I think is going to be a permanent change pandemic is the workplace, and I hope most people embrace mixed working if they want to.
« We really encourage companies and employers who haven’t yet had that conversation with their workforce to do so now because there’s a date, September 2nd. »
Transportation Secretary Eamon Ryan said returning to the workplace will facilitate the return of public transportation to 100% capacity tomorrow.
« We need our public transport system back, » he said, adding that wearing masks remains a legal requirement.
The work safety protocol document was published in May by the Ministry of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and was last updated in June.
Under current guidelines, employers must, among other things:
- Ensure that adequate hygiene facilities and materials are in place to accommodate workers who adhere to hand hygiene procedures
- Provide tissue paper as well as boxes/bags for disposal.
- Provide hand sanitizers (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) where washing facilities are not accessible.
Employers are required to ensure physical distancing is adhered to by using free office space “as far as practicable” and organizing workers “into teams or groups that work constantly and take breaks together.”
« Proper ventilation, for example open windows, should also be in place, » according to the protocol.
When this is not possible, the protocol also provides detailed information on the use of mechanical systems including local air purifiers and carbon dioxide monitors to assess air quality.
Prior to returning workers to workplaces, employers are required to consider air quality determinations within enclosed workplaces as part of an overall workplace hazard assessment.
In response to today’s announcement, the Secretary-General of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Patricia King said worker safety must be the government’s top priority.
“To help prevent the spread of Covid-19, these measures include appropriate ventilation systems, including access to fresh air, to reduce the risk of aerosol transmission indoors in situations where workers may be in close contact for extended periods of time and work in a poorly ventilated environment. said the king.
« However, this set of measures will only prove effective if employers are required to implement them. »
As it stands, Irish employers cannot require their employees to be vaccinated prior to returning to the workplace.
However, according to the advice in Safe Government Work ProtocolEmployers can look to “redeploy” unvaccinated workers within the company if an unvaccinated worker is “considered unsafe to perform certain work tasks.”
Speaking at this evening’s press conference, Varadkar told reporters he believed it was unlikely that employers would be given the right to know the vaccination status of their employees, describing it as a « violation of people’s personal privacy ».
« They can volunteer the information, but that’s a different thing than being asked to provide that kind of information, » he said.
« If we make any exceptions, I think it will only be in places where people work with very vulnerable people, perhaps in nursing homes and health care settings. »
If we make any exceptions, it will be when someone is operating in a vulnerable position.”
Some legal experts have warned that employers may leave themselves open to legal complaint if they follow this advice when workers return to the office from next month.
Talking to the magazine Last month, Karen Kelalia, Partner and Head of the Recruitment Team at the Maples and Calder law firm, said: Public health advice may need updating to provide more clarity.
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She explained that the protocol is « largely silent, in terms of specific guidance to employers about how they consider a vaccination status…so when you translate that into the workplace, employers are simply not in a position to have someone vaccinated. »
While « Employers are fully entitled to, and should, in fact, consider public health guidance to make their decisions about who to return … at present, the use of vaccination status is not based on any existing public health guidelines. »
From October 20, masks will only be legally required on public transportation, in healthcare settings, and in retail settings.
When asked about wearing masks in workplaces from September 20, Varadkar said that wearing masks in offices will not be required in the transition period.
« But if it is a crowded space, or people are walking around it, you are advised to do so. »