Many employers are anxiously awaiting directions from the Irish Government as to when they can re-open their businesses and/or operate their businesses at normal capacity.
Employers and employees alike should be mindful that the workplace post-Covid 19 lockdown will be very different to what they are used to and this is highlighted in the recent French case in which Amazon were ordered to stop selling “non-essential” items or else face hefty fines of €1,000,000 a day.
Amazon was sued by a French trade union on foot of some of its employees in France being diagnosed with Coronavirus where one employee was hospitalised as a result of being infected with Covid -19.
A French Court in Paris directed Amazon to establish a health and safety plan to protect its employees and although Amazon has appealed this ruling (which is suspended pending appeal), Amazon has closed six of its warehouses in France.
This case is a warning to Irish employers to ensure that they adequately protect the health and safety of their staff in the workplace and ensure physical distancing is adhered to by employees, suppliers and customers alike in the workplace. Failure to do so could result in employees refusing to attend work (so as to protect their health and safety) leading to a decrease in work production, formal grievances by employees or could even result in personal injury claims against the employer if an employee is infected with Coronavirus as a result of the employer’s failure to adequately protect employees at work.
The Irish Response – Return to Work Safety Protocol
On the 8th May 2020, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Health published the “Return to Work Safety Protocol”, which is designed to support employers and employees to put measures in place to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, when the economy begins to re-open.
The Protocol outlines several measures which employers should implement in their workplaces to reduce the spread of the virus. These measures include updating company policies to outline the procedure for dealing with suspected cases of Covid-19 in the workplace, requiring employees to complete return to work forms prior to returning to work (to confirm that the employee has no Covid-19 symptoms, is not self-isolating or awaiting test results) and ensuring physical distancing in the workplace (for example, staggered breaks and working in small teams, if group work is necessary in work).
Furthermore, businesses will also be expected to implement more stringent cleaning regimes in work which could be an issue for small businesses who may have limited resources to pay for cleaning services.
It is anticipated that as part of the Irish Government’s lockdown exit strategy that the Health and Safety Authority may be given additional powers to inspect workplaces and shut down those workplaces which are not adhering to physical distancing measures.
In light of the recently published Return to Work Safety Protocol, we would encourage all employers to take this time to carry out workplace risk assessments as well as updating their workplace policies so as to provide guidance to employees as to what measures to take in the workplace post-Covid 19 lockdown, in line with the Protocol. Employers should engage in this task now before re-opening their businesses and/or operating their businesses at normal capacity.
If you are unsure as to what measures to take or how to go about updating/drafting workplace policies, our Employment Law team are here to help and can guide you through these challenging times.
This Article is not intended as legal advice. For specific queries, please liaise with Cómhnall Tuohy whose details are set out below.