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Ireland: cautious approach to reopening workplaces continues

20 October 2021

The Irish government has advised against a large-scale return to the workplace but rather is continuing with its encouragement of a “phased and cautious” return for specific business requirements.

On 19 October 2021, the Irish government announced the easing of many of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned, however, that “We are not where we hoped to be or expected to be for reopening on October 22”. He added: “The full return to offices as we knew them, that will be next spring”.

In the announcement, the government rowed back on its previous plans to remove most of the remaining restrictions - in particular, the proposed removal of the requirement to work from home. The Tánaiste confirmed that the public health advice for people to work from home where possible will remain in place beyond Friday 22 October 2021. 

While acknowledging that a return to workplaces on a staggered basis was possible, Mr Varadkar emphasised that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) continues to recommend that whoever can work from home should continue to do so. In a letter to the government, NPHET cited the importance of homeworking in containing the spread of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The government is advising that the return to workplaces will continue on a phased and cautious basis for specific business requirements, which is essentially a continuation of the guidance in place since 20 September 2021. The interpretation of this guidance will depend on the individual circumstances of each workplace, but the Tánaiste confirmed that examples of “specific business requirements” might include meetings or training.

The government is expected to meet with and employers and trade unions imminently and the Work Safely Protocol will be further updated.

The upshot is that many employers will have to press pause on their plans for a near full-scale return to the office from 22 October until further notice. While the Work Safely Protocol and guidance issued by government are not in themselves legally binding, we recommend that employers continue to adhere to public health advice and the existing Protocol in developing their plans for a “phased and cautious” return to the workplace. This should be based on their specific business requirements, an updated risk assessment and consultation with employees.


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