The Transitional Protocol – Updated Guidance on Returning to the Workplace
Following consultation with the Labour Employer Economic Forum (“LEEF”), the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment published the Transitional Protocol - Good Practice Guidance for Continuing to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 on 31 January 2022.
The Transitional Protocol replaces the Work Safely Protocol (last updated on 14 January 2022) and provides best practice guidance for employers planning and implementing the safe return to physical attendance in the workplace. This follows the Government’s announcement that with effect from 24 January 2022 a return to physical attendance in workplaces can commence on a phased basis appropriate to each sector. This guidance is a general document applicable to all sectors. It is not designed to prohibit the introduction of specific measures in particular sectors or workplaces.
The main changes in the Transitional Protocol are as follows:
- The general requirement to maintain two metres physical distance has been removed.
- The requirement to operate pods of six has been removed.
- The requirement to maintain a contact log with details of employees and visitors who attend the workplace has been removed. However, employers may need to provide attendance information as appropriate to the Department of Public Health in the event that they are investigating an outbreak in the workplace.
- The requirement for the completion of a pre-return to work form has been removed.
- The legal requirement to wear a face mask/covering remains in place only for specific regulated settings (e.g., healthcare, public transport, taxis, public offices, retail premises etc.). The regulations, which remain in place until 28 February 2022, also require employees to wear a face mask/covering when involved in the preparation of, and service of, food or beverages for consumption on the premises.
Employers and employees are encouraged to maintain the role of the lead worker representative in each workplace, with at least one lead worker representative in place "to ensure a shared responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace for an appropriate transition period".
The Transitional Protocol sets out the following measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces:
- Updating the COVID-19 Response Plan – The Covid-19 Response Plan should be updated to take account of changes to public health advice and measures in the Transitional Protocol.
- Updating occupational health and safety risk assessments and safety statements – These should be reviewed and updated to take account of public health advice and the guidance in the Transitional Protocol.
- Maintain policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of workers who may have symptoms of COVID-19 - Employers and employees should continue to follow previous best practice and guidance such as staying away from the workplace if displaying any symptoms, following the public health advice regarding self-isolation, restricting movement, testing and reporting and to cooperate with the Department of Public Health if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed.
- Maintain infection prevention and control measures – Employers and employees should continue to maintain the various COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures (including hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, regular and thorough cleaning, ventilation and antigen testing).
The Transitional Protocol recommends that employers should engage with at risk employees (those in the high or very high risk category) to address any concerns they have about the return to the physical workplace and consider whether a fitness for work medical risk assessment needs to be undertaken.
The Transitional Protocol confirms the Government position in calling on employers, in consultation with their employees and/or Trades Unions to put in place long-term arrangements for blended or remote working. Employers should develop and consult on any remote or working from home policy in conjunction with employees and/or Trades Unions.
As part of the steps for the return to the physical workplace, employers should familiarise themselves with the measures set out in the Transitional Protocol and update their occupational health and safety risk assessments, their safety statements, and their Covid-19 Response Plan in consultation with their Lead Worker Representatives. The Transitional Protocol emphasises the importance of continuing good practices by both employers and employees to support a safe working environment. The Transitional Protocol notes that employers, in consultation with their employees, may consider maintaining some of the measures they had in place to comply with the Work Safely Protocol, but which are now not required.
This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.