knowledge | 1 April 2020 |

COVID-19: Remote Working - Practical Guidance for Employers

With all schools, pre-schools and further and higher education institutions closed until at least 19 April 2020, and only essential employees permitted to travel for work purposes until 12 April 2020, employers have facilitated remote working where this has been possible.  In many cases, the transition to remote working will have been rushed. While employers are beginning to overcome many of the initial teething problems with this mass transition to remote working, there are a number of key issues arising out of this new remote reality of which employers should be aware.

Below we outline some of these key issues, along with practical guidance for employers:

  • Continue to engage regularly with key stakeholders, such as IT, HR and external advisors, to ensure the organisation is functioning as smoothly as possible in the current circumstances and has the necessary infrastructure and IT security arrangements in place to enable home working arrangements;
  • Remind employees of their duties and obligations under their contracts of employment and applicable policies, in particular, their obligations and duties in relation to health and safety, confidentiality, data protection, and intellectual property;
  • Remind employees to continue to take their rest breaks in line with the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (as amended);
  • Request employees to turn off and remove smart devices, such as Alexa, from their home working area in order to maintain client/customer confidentiality;
  • Ensure that it is possible to continue to communicate with staff during periods of home working (whether by email, mobile or telephone);
  • If not already in place, consider having an emergency text service so that updates can be issued to employees as required; and
  • Where organisations have agency staff or contractors who are employed by another organisation, continue to engage with these organisations in relation to the deployment of such agency staff or contractors while the workforce works remotely.

Health and Safety

The Safety Health and Welfare at Work Acts 2005-2014 will continue to apply in respect to remote/home working arrangements.  A decision to require employees to work from home should be documented as part of an organisation’s overall risk assessment to be carried out in respect of COVID-19.  In addition, employees should be reminded that relevant provisions of the organisation’s health and safety policy continue to apply in respect of home working arrangements. Employees should also be reminded that they are required to take reasonable care to protect their safety, health and welfare and the safety, health and welfare of any other person who may be affected by the employee’s acts or omissions at work. Finally, organisations should review whether their employer liability insurance covers staff working from home.  

What if an employee is sick?

Employees who are ill, whether suffering from COVID-19 or otherwise, should not be asked to work remotely and the organisation’s sickness absence policy (including sick pay) will apply in such instances. Please see our related briefing COVID-19: Employer’s Obligations to Pay (here).

How can we help?

The Employment, Pensions and Incentives Group at McCann FitzGerald can assist organisations with any further queries on remote working in the context of COVID-19, and in developing its response strategy, drafting communications and policies, and advising on specific risk situations as required.

Also contributed by Ellen Nolan & Maeve Mac Dermott Casement

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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