The Government have published an updated Return to Work Safely Protocol, extended the triggered redundancy protection period, and issued a Remote Working Checklist to assist employers in their health and safety obligations to employees working from home. We also outline the benefits of digitising HR records.
THE ‘WORK SAFELY PROTOCOL’
On 20th November 2020, the Government published the Work Safely Protocol (the ‘Protocol’), which is an updated version of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, originally published in May 2020, to assist employers to protect their staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Protocol sets out the minimum measures required in every place of work to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and includes information regarding updated knowledge including the management and control of infection outbreaks together with appropriate hygiene practices. Helpfully, the Protocol also contains a number of web links to government departments and agencies where additional detailed information can be sourced. The Protocol is intended to be a living document and will continue to evolve in light of advice issued by the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). Employers should familiarise themselves with the Protocol and ensure immediate implementation of the policies and procedures outlined therein. Failure to do so could lead to difficulty in defending any litigious action.
EXTENSION OF THE TRIGGERED REDUNDANCY PROTECTION PERIOD
The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, passed by the Oireachtas on 27th March has, to the benefit of the employer, suspended a key element of the Redundancy Payments Act. Typically, an employee on lay-off or short time can, after 4 consecutive weeks (or 6 weeks over a period of 13 weeks), claim redundancy from his or her employer. Such right was temporarily suspended in March 2020 for an initial period up to 31st May 2020, but the legislation also allowed this period to be extended. The suspension of redundancy provisions relating to temporary lay-off and short time work has now been extended by the Government until 31st March 2020.
EMPLOYERS’ HEALTH AND SAFETY DUTIES TO EMPLOYEES WHEN WORKING FROM HOME
Employers have common law and statutory duties to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all employees. These duties continue to apply where employees are required to work from home. As a result, it is important that employers are mindful of the welfare of their employees as they work remotely. The Government has recently introduced a ‘Remote Working Checklist for Employers’ which outlines the key areas of consideration for remote working based on official guidance.
This guidance will soon be a statutory obligation with The Working from Home (Covid-19) Bill 2020 presented to the Dáil in early November 2020. If passed as formal legislation, this Bill will, among other obligations, require employers to provide employees who work from home with a workstation that is adequate and appropriate in relation to the work of the employee concerned.
THE BENEFITS OF DIGITISING HR RECORDS
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses have been forced to operate remotely. Remote working of HR teams has proved difficult where such work primarily requires regular access to physical files located at office premises. Now is the time for businesses to consider digitising their HR records, allowing HR teams to work remotely without depending on physical records. The digitisation of HR records also allows businesses to store HR records in an encrypted or password protected secure manner, which in turn decreases the risk of a physical data protection breach, allows easier compliance with Data Access Requests from employees and creates an efficient and modern method of work.