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Global HR Lawyers

Ireland: You shall return to the office (on a phased basis!)

25 January 2022

On 21 January 2022, the Irish government announced the easing of almost all of the Covid-19 restrictions. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “a phased return to the physical workplace can now commence”. The government press release set out that from Monday 24 January a return to physical attendance in workplaces can commence “on a phased basis appropriate to each sector”.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar is reported to have said to journalists that the Government wanted employers and employees, along with business representative groups and trade unions, to work out an “appropriate phased return” to the workplace between now and the end of February, and that government didn’t “think that it should be prescribed by government. Every workplace is different, and it’s best to work that out at workplace level”.  

The Work Safely Protocol - which was last updated on 14 January 2022 – doesn’t reflect the current public health guidance. It has been reported that an updated Protocol will be issued, which should provide guidance on whether employers need to have process in place if employees develop symptoms while at work, face coverings (which are still mandatory in retail settings and on public transport), ventilation arrangements, etc. Employers should update their risk assessments and we recommend consulting with employees on the best approach to the return to work in their particular workplace.  

The Tánaiste also announced that his Department will soon publish draft legislation to allow employees the right to request remote, hybrid, or homeworking. The draft legislation will require employers to put a policy in place and employees will have the right to bring a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission in certain circumstances.  

This significant, and relatively unexpected change in public health guidance will be welcome news to some but not to others. Many employees prefer working from home or may have legitimate concerns about returning to the office, particularly if they care for or live with someone vulnerable. Employers’ approaches will vary and the spectre of the oft-mentioned Great Resignation is likely have some influence. The draft legislation will hopefully clarify the extent to which employees are entitled to a contractual change to their working arrangements (and the lawful basis for employers to refuse).

My colleague, and head of Lewis Silkin’s Dublin office, Síobhra Rush spoke on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland to share her thoughts on the phased return to work which you can listen to here


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