The national Return to Work Safely Protocol, introduced in May, is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that should have been taken before a workplace reopens and as it continues to operate. It can be used by all workplaces to adapt procedures and practices to ensure compliance with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health.
As with other matters relating to the health and safety of employees, the responsibility for deciding what essential work may require attendance at the workplace, and what work can be carried out at home remains with the employer, bearing in mind the public health advice that where possible employees should work remotely. In instances where employees have returned to the physical workplace the employer must ensure that the public health measures set out in the national Return to Work Safely Protocol are being adhered to.
However, none of the public health measures announced by Government create an entitlement or an employment right for an employee to work remotely. Employees and Employers should engage to discuss the matter and if possible, come to an agreement. If agreement is not possible, it is for the employer to decide whether remote working arrangements are practicable in meeting the business’s needs.
Separately any employee can contact the Health and Safety Authority’s Workplace Contact Unit (WCU) for detailed advice relating to the national Return to Work Protocol. The WCU can be contacted by phone at Lo-call 1890289389 (landline) or (01) 6147000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The objective at all times should be to resolve workplace relations issues and disputes at a local level by means of constructive dialogue and engagement between the parties. Where this is not possible a dispute may be referred to the State's Workplace Relations Services for conciliation or mediation. Any industrial relations dispute arising, whether of a collective or individual nature, may be referred to the WRC. In the context of the former, either party (workers or employer) may refer the issues in dispute for conciliation with a view to reaching a mutually agreeable resolution with the assistance of an Industrial Relations Officer.
The WRC is providing services both on a face to face basis and virtually. Advice can be obtained from the Information & Customer Service of the Workplace Relations Commission Lo-call: 1890 80 80 90, : 059 9178990 or from its website www.wrc.ie.