By: Eoin Casey | Posted on: 02 Jun 2020

The second phase of the Government’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions is due to commence on Monday the 8th of June 2020 and a large number of businesses will now be making plans to re-open in the coming weeks.

The Return to Work Safely Protocol sets out detailed safety obligations for employers and indeed employees in the context of workplace re-opening during the pandemic. The document was designed by the Health and Safety Authority (“HSA”), the Health Services Executive (“HSE”) and the Department of Health and may evolve in accordance with further advice issued by the health authorities. The HSA is designated as the lead authority overseeing compliance, including the provision of advice and support, the power to visit to inspect and report on adherence to the Protocol, and indeed to issue businesses with Improvement Notices and Prohibition Notices (a legal notice designating that specified work practices stop).

Some of the key points of the Protocol are as follows:

• Employers are required to appoint at least one lead worker representative tasked with monitoring adherence to Covid-19 safety measures and will need to ensure they are provided with the necessary training;

• Employers should identify a Covid-19 Management Team;

• Employers must provide Covid-19 induction training for all employees;

• Employers are to put in place (or update) and maintain a Covid-19 Response Plan to include updating occupational health risk assessments and safety statements, setting out a response plan for suspected cases including providing for a designated isolation area and also putting in place contingency measures to address increased absenteeism and changed work patterns;

• Individual risk factors (including for example underlying health conditions or age) must be identified and taken into account by employers;

• Current sick leave policies should be reviewed and updated;

• Employers are required to prepare and issue to all employees a pre-return to work form to be completed at least three days prior to returning to work. This form includes a requirement for employees to confirm, to the best of their knowledge, that they have no Covid-19 symptoms, that they are not self-isolating nor awaiting test results. The full list of prescribed questions is set out in the Protocol;

• Employers must display in the workplace information regarding the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 and provide up to date information on the public health advice issued by the HSE.

• Employers are required to keep a log of contact or group work to facilitate contact tracing;

• Employers must put in place suitable hygiene facilities and provide advice, information and training on how to perform hand hygiene effectively as well as providing information and advice on good respiratory hygiene;

• Employers are also required to provide for physical distancing (currently at a prescribed distance of 2 metres) across all work activities, including by such measures as a no handshaking policy, organising workers into teams who consistently work and take breaks together, reorganising and rearranging work and break areas, conducting remote meetings where possible, providing one-way systems for egress/access routes where practicable and preventing gatherings at the beginning and end of working hours;

• The Protocol also requires cleaning of work areas at regular intervals and employers must provide staff with essential cleaning materials for their own workspace, as well as increasing the number of waste collection points which are to be emptied throughout and at the end of each day;

• For customer-facing roles, employers are required to eliminate physical interaction between employees and customers insofar as is reasonably practicable. Hand sanitisers should be installed at entry and exit points and physical barriers and clear markings should be installed to ensure minimal contact;

• Employers should put in place support for workers who may be suffering from anxiety or stress and provide information on publicly available sources of support and advice;

• The Protocol includes a requirement that employers implement temperature testing “in line with public health advice”. At the time of writing, the HSE has not put in place a public health recommendation for temperature testing, other than in certain healthcare settings;

The above is a selection of some of the key points of the Protocol but is not exhaustive. While complying with the Protocol will be a major task for employers, the HSA has provided a number of Covid-19 return to work templates and checklists, which employers can access and download on its website -

Implementing measures required under the Protocol will also bring into play further obligations on employers not least in relation to existing data protection law and GDPR. A key element here will be the need to set out the appropriate legal bases for the processing of the further and additional types of data involved. Also, in respect of health and other sensitive data to be processed (including for example, in return to work forms), suitable safeguards must be put in place including such measures as limitations on access to the data, strict time limits for erasure, and adequate staff training to protect individuals’ data protection rights. Employers should consider updating their Privacy Notices and Data Protection Policies accordingly.

If you are an employer or an employee and require advice on employment law and/or data protection law in the context of Covid-19, including on any of the issues mentioned above, please contact the person(s) referenced below.

This article is correct as at 2 June 2020.

Key contact:








Eoin Casey

Disclaimer: This document is for information purposes only and does not represent legal advice. If you have any queries in relation to the above matters, please refer to the contacts above or alternatively to your usual contact in P.J. O’Driscoll & Sons LLP.

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