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Northern Ireland: Getting ready for the return to work

25 January 2022

With the NI Executive recently relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, the return to work looks imminent

While we haven’t gone as far with the relaxation of restrictions as our neighbours in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, it’s likely that the guidance on working from home could end following the NI Executive’s further review of COVID-19 measures on 10 February 2022. Employers have a chance, ahead of this date, to plan their approach for a return to work. 

Relaxation of restrictions

The NI Executive has relaxed various measures put in place to manage the COVID-19 Omicron variant. In relation to employment, the changes are as follows:

  • From 21 January the guidance on working from home reverted to “working from home where you can with employers encouraged to facilitate this”. Additionally, from this date, the minimum self-isolation period for people testing positive for COVID-19 was reduced to five full days, subject to negative lateral flow tests on days 5 and 6 of their isolation.
  • From 26 January at 12 noon the requirement for offices to take reasonable measures for 2 metre social distancing will be removed. Guidance remains in place that risk assessments should be carried out.

On 10 February all remaining COVID-19 measures will be reviewed by the NI Executive. This will include:

  • the legal requirement to wear face coverings and the associated duty on businesses to take reasonable measures to ensure compliance; and
  • the legal requirement for risk assessments in prescribed settings.

The full list of the NI Executive’s relaxations of the COVID-19 restrictions are here.

Implications for employers

The prospect of returning to work 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 by sector and the spectre of the oft-mentioned Great Resignation is likely have some influence on decisions. Employers have an opportunity now, ahead of 10 February, to plan their approach for a return to the office, including talking to employees to agree the arrangements. 

Our COVID-19 hub contains a wealth of information about managing staff during the pandemic, including the return to the office. While the information is written from an England and Wales perspective, the position will be similar in Northern Ireland. 


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