How to solve a problem like: The great post-lockdown office return

by | Jun 18, 2021

Anthony Brady, Industrial Relations and Employment Services Executive with the CIF, looks at what employers should start to consider in relation to workers returning to an office setting

After 15 long months of the Covid-19 pandemic, both employers and workers can start looking forward to a return to office working. With the vaccination programme picking up speed, there is a noticeable uplift in spirits and a general feel good factor towards the end of the pandemic finally being in sight.

Work safety protocol

Last November the Government launched a Work Safety Protocol – a revision of the Return to Work Safely Protocol published in May 2020. Most recently revised this May, it incorporates the current advice on the public health measures needed to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the community and workplaces, as issued by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), the Department of Health and the Government.

The updated advice includes information on the management and control of outbreaks, selection of hand sanitisers, wearing of masks, vaccinations and ventilation of workplaces to reflect knowledge gained since the start of the pandemic, as well as information on how to approach the use of antigen testing in the workplace.

We advise all organisations to adopt these procedures and embed them into their everyday operational culture. It is vital that you ensure your Covid-19 protection measures are in place and that workers return to office spaces with full knowledge of these measures.

Pandemic operating procedures

In conjunction with the Work Safety Protocol, we urge employers and workers to re-familiarise themselves with the Construction Sector C-19 Pandemic Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). The SOP serves as a guidance document for workers on a construction site. It has been revised on a number of occasions to ensure it contains the latest advice from Government, the HSE and international best practice.

Version 8 of the SOP is available on the CIF website. Vaccination roll out The HSE is responsible for the roll out of the vaccination programme, and they have specific information and resources available on their website. Irrespective of the vaccination roll out, public health infection prevention and control measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, face coverings and adequate ventilation should be in place.

In that regard, we are advising employers and workers to continue to adhere to the requirements set out in the Work Safely Protocol and the SOP, and ensure that their Covid-19 response plan and workplace risk assessments are kept up-to-date. In addition, the current public health advice is that all existing infection prevention and control measures must also remain in place for individuals even following their vaccination.

The decision to get a vaccination is voluntary, although employers working together with workers and their representatives, may wish to provide advice and information on the vaccination programme so that workers have the necessary information to make an informed decision.

New legislation on the right to request remote working With the legislation providing a right to request remote working due to be enacted by the end of 2021, employers should assess how well remote working has worked for their organisation’s needs and to what extent they may be able to facilitate such a request in the future.

The legislation is likely to give employers guidance on circumstances in which they can refuse such a request. It is unlikely that legislation on the right to request remote working will have an impact on site workers such as craft persons, general operatives and apprentices. The presence of these workers is required on site every day.

The CIF operates a members-only repository for industrial relations updates. Member companies also have access to an A-Z Employment Guide for Employers, which is regularly updated by the Industrial Relations & Employment Services Department in line with legislative updates.

For queries relating to any of the above, please contact a member of the Industrial Relations & Employment Services Department on + 353 1 406 6000

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