The sea change in employment law practices springing a policy shift from government, law makers and recent case law will pose unprecedented challenges for employers according to a leading legal specialist, Shane Costelloe, from corporate law firm Holmes, who spoke at a recent Shannon Chamber webinar.
In his address to Chamber members, Mr. Costelloe provided expert insight into how the world of work has changed over the first half of 2021. He focussed on four key areas: the new Code of Practice for employers and employees on the prevention and resolution of bullying at work; the right to disconnect and the implication for human resources’ practitioners; the implication of a Supreme Court decision on Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) cases and; the vaccination of employees and the decisions for an employer when an employee has refused vaccination.
Stating that the recent decisions from the Courts and law makers cannot be ignored by boards, CEOs and HR directors, he complimented employers on the great resilience they have shown in addressing the unprecedented challenges they have faced over the past 18 months.
“The workplace has permanently changed, and the next steps need to be carefully considered,” he stated.
While failure to follow the new Code of Practice on bullying is not on offence, Mr Costelloe advised attendees to be aware that it is admissible as evidence in procedures under the Industrial Relations Acts and shall therefore be taken into account by the WRC when hearing claims.
“Bullying should be addressed in safety statements, including the development of a ‘Workplace Anti-Bullying Policy’ in consultation with employees,” he stressed.
“The same applies to the right to disconnect,” he added.
“The new Code of Practice gives employees the right to switch off from work outside of normal working hours including the right not to respond immediately to emails, phone calls or other messages; however, failure to follow the Code is not an offence but it can be admissible as evidence before the WRC and Courts,” he said, adding that this may prove difficult in some instances, particularly for multinationals where working hours may not in sync with national working hours.
With regard to cases being presented to the WRC he said that changes introduced as a result of a Supreme Court hearing, which now require cases to be held in public and evidence provided under oath, had led to a backlog of cases as a result of adjournments due to serious and direct conflict of evidence.
Turning his attention to the burning question facing employers, the right to question an employee’s vaccination status, Mr Costelloe said that while employers could ask for such status, the question of what this data could be used for is the main issue causing concern.
“Employers are bound by a duty of care to protect their employees but they currently have no right to force an employee to be vaccinated.
“While employers may ask an employee if they have received a vaccine, the employee has no obligation to respond. The validity of offering redeployment still requires guidance. Employers need guidance on these critically important issues. That’s why everyone working in this space, lawyers and HR practitioners eagerly await the next edition of the Work Safety Protocol,” Mr Costelloe added.
Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes commenting on the value of the webinar said: “Employment Law is ever changing, more so now with so many unknowns linked to the pandemic. Keeping our members up to date on developments in this area is critical, particularly now as companies are making decisions about the type of working environment they will provide for their employees in the months ahead.
“They need clarity on their obligations and rights,” Ms Downes stated.
Further information on all Shannon Chamber events can be found at www.shannonchamber.ie/events-traini