Trending OHS Questions

 8th January 2021


If an employee tests positive and works from home, can we allow them to continue to work?

If an employee is set up to work from home, whether or not they can continue to work through the period of self-isolation will depend on the doctor’s certificate provided. If the certificate leaves scope for the employee to continue working (for example where an employee is asymptomatic), it is then feasible for the employee to choose to continue working.

In this instance, an employer should assure the employee that they will be supported if they decide they are not well enough to continue working at any point during the period of self-isolation. As a gesture of good will, perhaps an employer might consider waiving the notice period required in the sick pay policy for informing a manager they will not be well enough to attend work that day. Regular check-ins to ensure the employee is still feeling well and happy to continue working would be prudent.

 

 

How do we manage employees who are over 70 during Covid-19?

Over 70s are in the very high risk group: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/people-at-higher-risk.html

 

The following steps should be taken:

First, review whether they should be in the workplace during Level 5 restrictions; or can they work from home.

If they cannot work from home:

  • The HSE advice is that they should stay at home “as much as possible”. Can the role be modified?
  • Conduct a Risk assessment of their role.
  • Arrange a consultation with an Occupational Health Physician to ensure they are fit for work (provide a copy of the Job Description and Risk Assessment)
  • Consult with your Insurance Provider to ensure they are covered.
  • Based on the outcome of this, make a decision and set a review period.

 

 

Vaccination Questions

In what order will the vaccine be offered?

The provisional vaccine allocation groups have been published on gov.ie: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/39038-provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups/

 

Can we require employees to take the vaccine?

The legal position in Ireland is such that there are constitutional and other legal barriers that would currently preclude an employer from implementing a mandatory vaccination programme for COVID-19.

  • The Irish constitution provides for a right to bodily integrity; the right to a private life and the right to personal autonomy that would make any mandatory program problematic.
  • Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) also guarantees the right to a private life.

 

It would likely require the government to implement a mandatory vaccination programme in order to pave the way for employers to follow suit – and even in those circumstances, significant consideration would need to be given as to how to operationalise such a program, especially with regard to the impact of an employee refusing to participate. Due to the nature of the legal challenges, a voluntary offering of the vaccination as per the annual offering of the flu vaccine in workplaces is likely to be the extent to which employers can seek to ensure widespread immunisation of their employees. Communication and education will be key to the successful roll out and take up of such a program.

 

 

 

Can we require vaccination for return to the office and require those who are not vaccinated to work remotely?

This approach could be problematic for a number of reasons:
1. The company is still indirectly mandating that employees be vaccinated using this approach.
2. If the company uses this approach, what will happen if an employee refuses to be vaccinated for extended periods of time? This could be open to abuse for those who want to work remotely permanently, and with no scope for the employee to return for one-off meetings such as performance reviews.
3. It could create a division between those who are vaccinated and those who are not which could impact the work culture and industrial relations. Employees who do not receive the vaccination and are working remotely could also be excluded from work-related social events.
4. It could be seen as a form of penalisation for the above reasons as they could be side lined.

 

 

How can we promote the vaccine?

The business could adapt an educational approach to the benefits of the vaccine, for instance you could bring in your Occupational Health Provider to go through the benefits and address any concerns or questions the employees may have around it. This can often prove effective and by adopting a more “how it will benefit you approach” means your company would get a better buy-in and engagement from your staff.

 

Do workers travelling to Ireland from the UK or South Africa to carry out an essential business function need to isolate for 14 days and/or produce  a negative/’not detected’ result from a pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test carried out no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Ireland?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

 

The request to restrict movement for 14 days does not apply to workers travelling to Ireland from the UK or South Africa to carry out an essential business function. However, these workers must restrict their movements when not carrying out essential work.

From 9 January 2021, all passengers arriving at Irish airports and ports whose journey originates in Great Britain or South Africa will be requested to have evidence of a negative result from a PCR COVID-19 test (COVID-19 not detected) taken up to 72 hours prior to arrival in Ireland. This includes workers travelling to Ireland from the UK or South Africa to carry out an essential business function.      

Members are advised as this area is in a constant flux to consult the Irish Government Department of Foreign Affairs website for its latest travel advice and guidance and to refer to Department of Health website.  

 

 

What is the current view on Antigen Testing?

Review the current HSE Guidance on private testing: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/testing/private-testing-for-covid-19.html

Antigen testing is quicker but less reliable than PCR testing. Furthermore, it is not recognised by the HSE at this time.

It could be used as a screening method- if someone received a positive antigen test, they could restrict their movements, contact their GP, and go for a PCR test (which would be free).

It is important that any testing programme is carried out under the supervision of a medical professional.