FAQs: Your reopening questions answered

Alan Hickey

May 04 2021

The Government recently published its latest reopening schedule for business and society. It provides business owners with reopening dates for May and June that look to get the economy back up and running.  

To help you prepare for reopening, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions our expert advisors have recently been asked by business owners.

FAQs

What are my health & safety obligations as an employer?

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, you have a statutory duty as an employer to protect the safety, health and welfare of employees so far is reasonably practicable. In addition to your obligations under health and safety legislation, you must now put mandatory measures in place under the Government’s Work Safely Protocol.

Before returning to work, you must:

  • Develop a COVID-19 Response Plan and put it in place.
  • Appoint a Lead Worker Representative to act as a liaison between staff and management on the measures being taken.
  • Update risk assessments and safety statements.
  • Identify health and safety risks specific to the workplace.
  • Develop an action plan to implement if employees complain of COVID-19 symptoms.

You need to assess the level of risk that is present in your own workplace. If risks are identified, you should develop specific control measures to safeguard against those risks.

How should I approach vaccines with my staff?

You can encourage staff to have the vaccine by directing them towards information that focuses on the benefits of inoculation. While you have no right to force staff to take a vaccine, you can highlight the benefits of being vaccinated. Employees should also be reminded to treat their colleagues with respect regardless of their position in relation to taking the vaccine.

How do we go about doing an updated risk assessment?

The Health and Safety Authority advise employers to consider the most up to date official public health advice and guidance from the Department of Health and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre on how to mitigate the health risk of COVID-19. All relevant public health measures should be communicated to employees and others at the workplace.

You should review your occupational health and safety risk assessments to take account of any changes to work activity that may arise based on public health recommendations, including the availability of vaccines.

The risk assessment process involves examining the workplace to identify hazards, evaluate risks, and identify control measures to safeguard against those risks.

Free Download: Risk Assessment Templates

Do employees have health & safety obligations under the Work Safely Protocol?

Yes, employees have statutory duties under health & safety legislation to take reasonable care for their own health & safety, and that of other persons, and to co-operate with their employer with regard to health & safety at work, including participating in any training offered by the organisation.

The Work Safely Protocol also imposes certain obligations on employees. Employees must:

  • Complete a return to work form at least three days prior to their return to work. The form should include a declaration confirming that the employee has no symptoms and is not self-isolating or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
  • Familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Immediately report to management if they develop symptoms at work and self-isolate.
  • Disclose any information that would impact on their safe return to work.
  • Undergo temperature testing implemented by the employer in line with public health advice.
  • Comply with measures to promote good hand/respiratory hygiene and physical distancing.

What are an employer’s obligations in terms of social distancing in the workplace?

The Work Safely Protocol sets out various measures which provide for physical distancing across all work activities. These include:

  • Implement a no handshaking policy.
  • Free office space must be used as much as reasonably practicable and work organised in such a way to avoid multiple occupancy.
  • Organise workers into teams who work and take breaks together.
  • Organise breaks so social distancing can be maintained.
  • Reorganise working and break areas, rearrange tables and chairs to ensure they are far enough apart, staggering canteen use, queue management systems where relevant.
  • Card method payments (including contactless) should be put in place.
  • Allocate special times for collections, appointments, and deliverables.
  • Conduct meetings using online remote means as much as possible. Where face to face meets are absolutely necessary, the length of the meeting and the number of attendees should be kept to a minimum and those present must adhere to social distancing requirements.
  • One-way systems/routes should be put in place for access/egress of the workplace.
  • Adapt sign in/sign out measures to ensure social distancing can be maintained.
  • Place posters in the workplace to remind workers/ customers to adhere to social distancing.

Do I need to update my contracts and employment policies?

All health & safety-related policy documents, risk assessments, and safety statements should be reviewed to ensure they take account of the risks presented by COVID-19. Health & safety policies also need to incorporate the new measures required under the Work Safely Protocol.

You should also review and revise existing sick leave policies to reflect the new risks presented by COVID-19. Homeworking, data protection, short-time/layoff, and disciplinary policies may also need to be amended to reflect recent changes in operations.

Free Download: Getting back to work after lockdown

What is the return to work form?

The Work Safely Protocol requires you to issue a pre-return to work form for employees to complete at least 3 days in advance of their return to work. This form should seek confirmation that the employee, to the best of their knowledge, has no symptoms of COVID-19. The form should also look to confirm that the employee is not self-isolating or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

Trade in my business has been badly affected by COVID-19. Has redundancy law changed?

You can make redundancies during the restrictions, but it remains vital to ensure that your redundancy process complies with employment law and the principles of fair procedures. The Government did make one change to redundancy legislation which prevents employees who have been laid off from claiming a redundancy payment. The suspension of this right remains in place until June 30th, 2021.

Need our help reopening your business?

For expert advice on any HR or health & safety issue when reopening, speak with one of our advisors today on 1890 252 923.

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