Employers Obligations amidst Covid 19

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With news of the government’s plan to ease the restrictions on a phased basis from 5th May many businesses are gearing up to re-open. The shape, size and structure of these businesses may not be the same in the short term.  Sadly, some of them will not re-open and many people will be seeking new employment elsewhere.  Because this situation is unprecedented a lot of questions and issues will need to be addressed. The Covid 19 crisis puts employees and employers in unknown territory in relation to employment law and in relation to safe work practices.

If you are an Employer about to re-open after a period of being closed it is very important to re-familiarise yourself with your obligations under the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005.  This piece of legislation imposes a duty on employers to provide all employees with a safe place in which to work. Employers must identify any possible hazards and carry out risk assessments.  New social distancing measures and the requirement to maintain a strict cleaning and hygiene regime will become the new normal in all places of work. 

By not putting stringent measures in place to take all reasonable steps to avoid accident, injury or illness to an employee, an employer could find themselves exposed to a personal injury claim by an employee that falls ill or is injured at work.

Further, if preventative measures are not in place to stop workers from contracting Covid 19 an employee may decline to attend for work on the grounds that they do not feel safe there. If they are then dismissed for refusing to attend for work it is open to the employee to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. Inadequate handwashing facilities, no social distancing and no hand sanitiser are examples of failure by an employer to provide a safe place of work. A dismissal in such a case would most likely be successfully challenged if bought by an employee. 

Therefore, before re-opening all businesses should draw up a plan to implement all the necessary steps to be taken going forward. The measures to be taken will depend on the type of business.  What is practical and reasonable for one business will not be applicable to another. However, what will remain the same across the board is the fact that for as long as we have Covid 19, the onus on employers to provide safe places of work and safe work practices will be greater than ever.  But by taking the necessary steps now every employer should benefit from a healthy, happy workforce allowing for maximum productivity and revenue into the future.

For advice on any employment issue please contact me – emma.neville@arw.ie