knowledge | 30 March 2020 |

COVID-19:  Government Directs that only Essential Workers may Travel

In a continuation of its efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, the government has issued new public health guidelines. These restrict travel with certain limited exceptions including travel to work for essential service providers. Here, we provide the key takeaways for employers arising out of the latest government guidance.

The new guidelines contain extensive and unprecedented restrictions on movement until 12 April 2020, with a limited number of exceptions.  One of those exceptions is for travel to and from work, or for purposes of work, where that work is an essential health, social care or other essential service and cannot be done from home. However, the guidelines do reiterate that all employees should work remotely from home if at all possible.

How can I tell if my business provides an essential service?

Employers should refer to the full list of essential service providers under these latest guidelines (available here) to assess whether their services are deemed essential.  Employers should note that, once they have determined by reference to this list that they are providing an essential service, it is not necessary to seek any official authorisation to this effect. 

Employers should also be aware that, where an organisation carries out an activity that is necessary for the continued provision of an essential service by another organisation or is part of an essential supply chain, the guidelines state that such an organisation should continue to carry out that activity and that, “to the maximum extent possible”, that should be done remotely. 

The guidelines also recognise that many Irish companies are critical to global supply chains that are responding to the COVID-19 crisis, and many companies also perform critical global roles in other aspects of medicine, as well as security, cyber, cloud and data centre infrastructure. These essential global roles are intended to be encompassed within the national guidance.

What if my business provides an essential service?

Where an employer’s business is engaged in an essential service, that employer should identify all employees and sub-contractors who are essential to the provision of that service. It should i) notify such persons that they are essential employees or sub-contractors; and ii) provide each such individual with a letter stating that he or she is an essential worker.  Essential workers should carry this letter and one other form of identification when travelling to and from work. Latest public health guidance should be followed at all times.

What if my business does not provide an essential service?

The guidelines state that employees who are not engaged in the provision of essential services are not permitted to travel to and from work until 12 April 2020.  A grace period was extended until 6pm on Monday 30 March for those who need to make necessary arrangements to wind down their activities in an orderly way. However, it is emphasised that this should be done in a way that minimises travel and personal interaction as much as possible. The guidelines also state that "it is accepted that some extra time will be needed for a wind down of activity, or necessary for a site to continue to operate at a reduced level of activity, for example in complex manufacturing processes or very large construction projects."

How can we help?

The Employment, Pensions & Incentives Group is available to answer any employment law-related queries you may have in the current climate and can provide guidance on the legal consequences of measures being considered by your organisation to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Also contributed by Declan O'Rourke.

This briefing is 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.

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