Shared responsibility to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace

Shannon Chamber HR is a dedicated HR and Employment Law Support Service for members of Shannon Chamber provided in partnership with Adare Human Resource Management, experts in Employment Law, Industrial Relations, Human Resources and Health & Safety at preferential rates.

Derek McKay, Managing Director of Adare Human Resource Management looks at how employers and employees can work together to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace and prevent further unnecessary disruption to business.

The current second wave of Covid-19 infections is a clear sign of just how quickly the virus can spread amongst the community. Many businesses are still dealing with the impact of the first wave. And while there is some fatigue setting in, employees and employers must remain vigilant to the continuing threat.

Ensure protocols are in place

Employers have always had responsibility of ensuring a safe workplace under the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act 2005 but the HSE has set-out additional guidelines in its Return to Work Protocol. The protocol sets out minimum measures that employers must implement to help prevent any Covid-19 outbreaks. These include:

  • Developing a Covid-19 Response Plan and update business continuity and safety plans, occupational health and safety risk assessments and ensure it is clear how the Organisation will deal with any suspected Covid-19 cases.
  • Ensure employees complete a ‘pre-return to work’ form at least three days before they come back to the workplace. The employee must confirm that they have not had any symptoms of the virus or been in close contact with anyone who has suspected Covid-19 for a 10-day period. A template for the pre-return to work form can be downloaded from the HSA website.
  • Covid-19 prevention training should be given to all staff and health and safety measures should be implemented in the workplace; installation of hand sanitiser, ensure social distancing, correct health notifications and signage, etc.
  • Any updates or changes to policies and procedures must be communicated to employees.

However, what if an employee tests positive for Covid-19? Is the employer entitled to be notified that an employee has tested positive?

In May, the HSE suspended the practice of informing employers that a named employee had tested positive for Covid-19. The move followed criticism from the Chief Medical Officer who described the practice as “a breach of confidentiality” despite the HSE stating that it only informed employers that an employee had Covid-19 in exceptional circumstances. 

Under rules introduced by the HSE at the start of September, employers will be notified if an employee tests positive but the employee will not be identified. It is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer if they test positive.

However, it’s not surprising that some employers are concerned about the spread of Covid-19 amongst the workforce if there is any delay in being informed. A recent story in the media about an outbreak at a care home reinforces this concern. An employee who had Covid-19, concealed their diagnosis from their managers, and continued to work with vulnerable, elderly residents, resulting in an outbreak.

Communication is crucial

Key to the successful operation of any business during the current crisis is communication and engagement between employer and employee. Employees should not feel that they will lose out in any way if they confirm a positive Covid-19 result, financially or otherwise. Employees must have the confidence that they will be treated with the utmost respect and in a responsible and confidential manner if they come forward.

Employers should also reinforce the role of the employee in preventing the spread of Covid-19. Employees should follow the public health advice and any additional guidance set out by the employer specific to their workplace or job, including the wearing of PPE if required.

Good hygiene practices, respiratory etiquette and social distancing are the responsibility of the employee in helping to prevent the spread Covid-19. And, if feeling unwell with any of the symptoms, they should ensure they do not come into work but self-isolate and contact health professionals.

And, most importantly, if they test positive, stay at home and notify their employer immediately to ensure a swift track and trace response.

Never has the saying “we’re in this together” been more relevant and important as we try to get businesses and the economy back up and running.

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  • Access to solutions-focused advice and support on HR and Employment Law queries for your Organisation provided by the experienced expert-led team at Adare Human Resource Management, giving you peace of mind that you can effectively manage any employment or HR issues that may arise. For information on the full range of services and supports provided, click here.

For further information on the HR and Employment Law support services provided, to arrange a meeting or to receive a quote, contact the team at Shannon Chamber – / 061 360 611