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15
Dec 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Q&A: The Vaccine & The Workplace

  • Can employers ask employees to confirm if they have taken the vaccine and keep a list of those who have done so?

Employers are not prohibited from asking employees if they have taken the vaccine however they would need to identify a legal basis under the General Data Protection Legislation (GDPR) to collect any information relating to their employee’s vaccination status. For example, it may be possible to assert that collecting this information is necessary to achieve the employer’s ‘legitimate interests’. However, the employer would need to show that requesting and processing this information is both necessary and proportionate to achieve its purposes by reference to the specific circumstances in the workplace, and that its interests in promoting the health and safety of its workforce or otherwise outweighs the employee’s right for such data not to be processed. 

  • Can a refusal to get vaccinated be sanctioned, e.g. by refusing an employee access to the office or stopping their pay or dismissal?

There is currently no legal obligation for individuals to take the covid-19 vaccine and therefore Irish bodies may be slow to consider a decision not to take the vaccine as “unreasonable”, or accept an analysis that taking a vaccine is a “requirement” of a role. Therefore, in the event that an employee refuses to take the vaccine, it is recommended that the employer engages with the employee and discuss alternative measures, for example, redeployment to another role. The employer must also bear in mind that there may be different reasons why an employee has chosen to refuse the vaccine and employers will need to consider their obligations under the Employment Equality Acts.

Under the Health & Safety Act, having carried out a written risk assessment, if it is determined that if someone is not vaccinated and therefore would not be regarded as being in a safe position to perform certain work tasks, then the employer should engage with the employee and consider redeploying them to another role, requiring them to comply with other health and safety measures or allowing them to work remotely etc. while maintaining them on full pay.

  • Does an employee have a right to refuse to work alongside another person who has not been vaccinated?

Under the General Data Protection Legislation (GDPR) employers are not permitted to disclose the vaccination status of an employee to other staff. Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, if an employee asserts that working physically alongside unvaccinated persons places them in “serious and imminent danger”, the employee cannot be penalised for leaving work or taking measures to protect themselves from that danger.

The employer can take steps to ensure employees cannot assert they are in “serious and imminent danger” by taking reasonable precautions to protect employees in line with the Government’s Work Safely Protocol, such as allowing employees to work from home, implementing Covid-19 safety measures (including maintaining social distancing in the workplace, the use of antigen tests etc) and considering redeployment options.

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Posted in Coronavirus

13
Dec 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The 411 on The Right to Request Remote Working

This upcoming legislation will give employees the right to request remote working and work is underway on its development. A framework will be developed on how those requests can be considered. The Work Life Balance Directive (which must be fully transposed into Irish law by August 2022), has been mentioned throughout the development of the remote working legislation.

This Directive is to provide every employee with children up to eight years of age, and carers, the right to request flexible working arrangements, this remote working legislation will further support an employee’s work life balance. The Directive gives Member States discretion to legislate around the duration of flexible working arrangements and provides that employers “should be able to decide whether to accept or refuse a worker’s request”.

Within the strategy document, it states that introducing legislation on this topic will provide employees a framework around which such a request could be based and that this could provide clarity to employers on best practice on dealing with such requests.

The drafting of this legislation will be much anticipated, as there is currently a lack of a legal or agreed definition of remote working during a time of mandatory remote working caused by Covid-19.

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Posted in Company Handbook, Coronavirus

14
Oct 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The Budget 2022: What You Need to Know

The 2022 budget was released this week which aims to explain how money will be raised and spent in 2022. The budget saw some important changes across a variety of sectors with some important ones for employers to know which is why we have summarised them for you below so you don't miss out!

  • The National Minimum Wage

The NMW will rise by 30 cent to €10.50 per hour

  • Family

Maternity benefit and parental leave payments to be increased
Parent's Benefit extended by 2 weeks to 7 weeks from July next year

  • Covid Supports

The employment Wage Subsidy Scheme will remain in place, in a graduated format, until 30 April, 2022 - the scheme will close to new employers from 1 January, 2022

  • Working from Home & Income Tax

People who work remotely will see an income tax deduction of 30% of the cost of vouched expenses for heat, electricity and broadband. In his Budget speech, the Minister for Finance said Government policy is to facilitate and support remote work. 

If you would like to read some more detailed information and analysis, or even read the Ministers’ Budget day speeches to the Dáil, visit http://gov.ie/budget to find out more.

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The Essential Elements of a Hybrid Working Policy

Posted in Coronavirus, Employment Law, Health & Safety, Hybrid Working, News

27
Sep 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Key Features: Updates to the Work Safely Protocol

Following on from our post The Phased Return to the Workplace , further guidance has been given into the recent government changes effect on the Work Safely Protocol. The Protocol sets out the minimum public health measures required in every place of work to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While employers are still expected to comply with their normal health and safety obligations, employers should note that from 22 October 2021 the requirement to work from home will be removed and the statutory regime in place to protect public health will be wound down. Further guidance is expected in advance of that date. So what are some of these key changes:

From 20 September 2021:

  • Businesses can begin a phased and staggered return to workplaces for specific business requirements
  • Two metre social distancing, the wearing of masks in certain circumstances, hygiene measures and appropriate ventilation remain in place
  • Appropriate attendance levels should be maintained in accordance with the Protocol
  • Staggered arrangements should be considered, such as non-fulltime attendance and flexible working hours
  • Each workplace must have a Lead Worker Representative that works with the employer to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, and
  • The requirement for self-isolation / restricted movements will continue for those with symptoms, who should immediately seek a test, those with positive test results, and close contacts of confirmed cases, unless fully vaccinated with no symptoms

From 22 October 2021:

  • Depending on continued satisfactory vaccination rates, the Government intends to remove further statutory restrictions from this date. In particular, the requirement to work from home will be removed, allowing a return to physical attendance in workplaces on a phased and cautious basis, appropriate to each sector.
  • Remote working will become a regular feature of Irish working life as the Government continues to implement Making Remote Work, Ireland’s National Remote Work Strategy, and
  • Legal requirements in relation to social distancing and mask wearing will no longer apply in the majority of circumstances. An emphasis on personal responsibility will be encouraged. This means that employees cannot insist on compliance with social distancing, mask wearing or the provision of sanitising equipment or products in the workplace

With employee's returning one of the most important actions for employers to take is to review their risk assessments and health & safety policies. In order to pinpoint how and where could the virus be transmitted in your workplace you must look at the hazards, evaluate the risks and put control measures in place and The Health and Safety Authority has produced checklists to assist in the reopening of workplaces.

In conclusion, the return to the workplace should be conducted in a cautious manner and in consultation with employees. The government is moving towards a focus on personal responsibility from the 22nd of October 2021 and the Government will consult with employers in advance of this date to prepare guidance for the next phase of easing public health restrictions.

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The Phased Return to the Workplace

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Posted in Coronavirus, Customer Update, Employment Update, Health & Safety, Hybrid Working

21
Sep 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The Essential Elements of a Hybrid Working Policy

Following on from our previous post 'Your Must Have Hybrid-Working Checklist' having hybrid working policies and agreements in place is essential when returning employees to the office and agreeing a split between working form home and in the office. We see the important elements of a hybrid working policy to be the following:

1. Detail the split between attending work and working remotely

Your hybrid working policy should detail the split between attending work and working remotely and state what number of days an employee will spend attending the workplace and working remotely. The number of days will depend on but is not limited to some of the following;

  • the nature of the employees role 
  • what is happening within their role and team at any particular time 
  • individual circumstances 
  • the needs of the business, including space available at the businesses work locations

2. Working Hours
The working hours the employee must work in the office and at home must be stated, for example: For days on which the employee is attending the office, their normal hours of work are set out in their contract of employment.

Ensure you also detail that while working remotely, they must be available and working during their normal hours of work, as set out in their contract of employment while also listing the break and lunch times and being clear that they must avoid overworking, down time from work is essential.

3. Safe-Working While Working Remotely
Detail the procedure your employees must follow should they have any health & safety concerns while working at home, for example; if any work-related accidents occur in your home.

4. Remote Working Procedures
This section of the policy is where you will detail:

  • Sickness Absence
  • Compliance with Policies
  • Technology & Equipment
  • and a reference to data protection

Bright Contracts have recently updated the software to include a hybrid working policy which can be found under the 'Terms & Conditions' section of the handbook. If you'd like to preview this content prior to consider purchasing a licence you can do so here.

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Your Must Have Hybrid-Working Checklist

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Posted in Contract of employment, Coronavirus, Employment Contract, Hybrid Working, Software Upgrade, Staff Handbook

13
Aug 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

The Link Between Hybrid Working & Employee Engagement

Following on from our previous blog post ‘Hybrid Working: Know The Basics’ we are now aware of what Hybrid Working is and the basics to know about implementing a Hybrid Work Model in your organisation. However, something employers may not be aware of is in order for hybrid working to be successfully implemented, getting employee engagement right is crucial.

Employee engagement can be defined as the mental and emotional connection employees feel towards their places of work, all of which drives not only their motivation but also their productivity and ultimately efficiencies. Offering a flexible working arrangement to your employees is in itself a good way to motivate and engage employees; by offering them the opportunity to manage their own work life balance in a way that suits their needs. But employers also need to ensure the sense of belonging is not lost amongst their team. It is important that employees are still connected to their colleagues while working remotely and, when they are together in the workplace, ensuring that a sense of collaboration and togetherness still exists, thus maintaining the culture of the organisation.

Identifying the drivers of engagement is a necessary first step for organisations looking to improve their overall performance. Organisations can increase engagement by adopting a systematic approach that aligns with the organisations framework of objectives. Some key elements include:

Confidence in Leadership
This is particularly important when decisions are being made in relation to the roll-out of the hybrid working model. It is important to note that every organisation will not get the hybrid model right first-time, it will require testing, rearranging and continuous feedback from employees. In order for employees to really engage, they must believe that the leadership team not only values their opinion but also takes their opinions onboard when designing their hybrid working models.

• Collaboration
When employees work in teams and have the trust and cooperation of their team members, they outperform individuals and teams which lack good relationships. Great leaders are team builders and can create an environment which fosters not only trust but also collaboration. Employees who are cared about by their colleagues is a strong predictor of Employee engagement. As a result, an ongoing challenge for organisations is to gather employees to collaborate on organisational, departmental, and group goals.

• Effective Communication
Employees want to work for successful organisations and as such they want to know how they are contributing to that success. Employees need to know that their views and input count and are valued, to understand their organisations strategy and see how their work objectives are linked with their work areas business plan. A primary engagement priority should be clear and meaningful communication from leaders to employees. To assist organisation with effective communications, tools such as focus groups and opinion surveys are very effective.


In conclusion, moving from remote working to hybrid working is not feasible without careful consideration and communication with employees. There is no “one-size fits all” approach and every organisation will have their own specific set of strategic objectives, as well as employees having needs individual to them. But the key to the success of hybrid working in your organisation is ensuring you have the full support of your employees.

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Posted in Coronavirus

15
Jul 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Hybrid Working: Know The Basics

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has completely shifted the way we work and live. Companies have had to quickly adopt new initiatives and technologies to ensure employee safety whilst maintaining productivity. Working from home has now become the normality for many of us and adapting to these new ways of working is essential for business continuity which is why we have approached this blog post as a FAQ of hybrid working.

  • What is hybrid working?

Hybrid working, also referred to as blended working, is where employees divide their time between working from home and attending the workplace. For example, the arrangement possibly will involve an employee working from home two or three days a week and attending the workplace on the remaining days.
Alternatively, hybrid-working could involve building increased flexibility into the employee's working location so that each day they choose where they work, sometimes going in to a workplace and sometimes working remotely depending on their circumstances and the needs of the business.

  • Is there a standard hybrid working model?

There is no standard one-size fits all hybrid working model. What is going to work best for your organisation will depend on the nature of your business and your needs as an employer. There are a few potential variations to hybrid working to consider. For example, you need to consider whether you are going to require employees to attend a specific workplace location on a set number of days per week, or whether your business allows it’s employees to be more flexible and adopt a "work wherever is best for you to do your job" model.

There is also the matter of whether you are going to require everyone to move to hybrid working or whether it will simply be an option for employees who want to work this way with workspaces available for those who need them. In addition, you may decide that hybrid working is suitable only for particular roles within your organisation.

  • What positions are eligible for a Hybrid Work Arrangement?

Deciding on which positions are eligible for remote working are based on operational and business needs and must be made without bias or favoritism to ensure a fair process. Department leaders should first consider the departments objectives, working hours and consider each staff member’s duties to determine if that position can be done effectively with a Hybrid Work Arrangement. Not all positions and staff will be eligible for hybrid working.

  • Who has the authority to approve Hybrid Work Arrangements?

Hybrid Work Arrangements are agreed at the discretion of the organisation and the employee’s direct supervisor/manager. Supervisors/managers have the authority to approve Hybrid Work Arrangements after consulting with their Department Head.

  • Under what criteria can a Hybrid Work Arrangement request be denied?

The denial of a hybrid working request should be based on legitimate business rationale such as operational need/changes, staffing need/changes, or documented performance issues.

  • What if someone disagrees about their position’s eligibility for or denial of remote work?

If a request is denied, or an employee does not agree with the terms of their Hybrid Work Arrangement, managers should attempt to resolve the matter informally with the employee. If needed, managers should consult with their supervisor or division leader in addition to Human Resources. If an informal resolution cannot be reached, managers should inform the employee in writing that the employee may be able to file a complaint in accordance with the employee’s applicable complaint process detailed in the company handbook.

Coming Soon: Bright Contracts will be updating the software shortly to include a Hybrid Working policy as well as other useful documentation, announcements will be made once these become available.

To ensure you have access to the complete hybrid working content ensure you have purchased a Bright Contracts licence.

Posted in Coronavirus, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook, Employment Law

8
Jul 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

My Employees & The Vaccine: Can I ask for this data?

As vaccinations continue to roll out and employees begin returning to the workplace, employers are now wondering if they can lawfully collect and process information about the Covid-19 vaccination status of their employees. As mentioned in our previous Blog Post Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy, information relating to an individual’s vaccination status is categorised under GDPR as special category personal data and therefore represents part of their personal health record which is why it is afforded additional protections under data protection law.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) has published guidelines addressing the issue of what information employers can process, within these guidelines the DPC have made it clear that they do not consider there is any general legal basis for employers to request the vaccination status of their employees at this time, their reason being “in the absence of clear advice from public health authorities in Ireland that it is necessary for all employers and managers of workplaces to establish vaccination status of employees and workers, the processing of vaccine data is likely to represent unnecessary and excessive data collection for which no clear legal basis exists”.

With that being said, the DPC acknowledges that there may be certain extenuating circumstances, for example those working in frontline healthcare services, where vaccination can be considered a necessary safety measure, therefore in these situations the DPC states that an employer will likely be in a position to lawfully process vaccine data on the basis of necessity.

The current version of the Work Safely Protocol: Covid-19 National Protocol for Employers and Workers highlights that the decision to get a vaccine is entirely voluntary, and that individuals will make their own decisions as to whether they wish to receive it or not. Based on this, in the DPC’s view, this further indicates that covid-19 vaccination data should not be considered a necessary workplace safety measure, and as a result, the processing of vaccine data is unlikely to be necessary or proportionate in an employment context.
These guidelines will be subject to review if the public health advice and laws relating to the nature of the virus, the pandemic and the interplay with vaccination change which is why employers should ensure they closely monitor evolving public health guidance and laws.

To keep up to date on these changes we have recommended the following resources:

- GOV.ie 

- HSE.ie

- World Health Organization 

Bright Contracts has recently been updated to include a Data Protection Policy and Vaccine Policy which covers these consideration points for our customers to include in their employee handbooks, which can be found under the terms and conditions tab.

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23
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy

The Vaccine. . . a major topical area and again one that information about is changing by the day. Instead of overloading you with paragraph upon paragraph of text, we thought we’d approach this section as a Q&A which covers all questions you may have about the vaccine policy. 

The first question is - Can you insist that an employee be tested? 

In the absence of a legal requirement for employees to take a test, no individual can lawfully be forced to take one, as such an action could be considered assault given the physical element of taking a test.

Employees who have no symptoms should only be asked to take a test on a voluntary basis. Employees who have no symptoms and are not a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case may query the legal basis of being required to take a covid test before entering the workplace. In this scenario, the purpose of the test should be explained to the employee and if the employee continues to refuse the test, employers need to tread very carefully to avoid employee relations issues. 

Moving onto question 2 - Can you ask an employee if they have been vaccinated? 

While employees are not obliged to provide personal medical information, employers may seek vaccination information on the foundation that they are meeting their legal obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts. It will be up to the employee if they wish to volunteer this information to their employer. If they choose to volunteer this information, then employers should not disclose this information to other employees. As medical data is considered as a Special Category of Personal data, additional data protection regulation apply and must considered. 

Lastly, question 3 - Can you insist that an employee be vaccinated? 

Currently vaccinations are recommended by Irish authorities, but not compulsory for any Irish citizen. Even with the role out of the Covid vaccination amongst medical workers who are employees of the HSE, for these employees the vaccine was not mandatory. With this in mind, it is likely to be very difficult for an employer to argue and defend a case that vaccination is compulsory in a workplace. There is little an employer can do if their employee refuses to get the vaccine however, understanding their concerns is important and finding solutions that meet the business needs without infringing on their rights is crucial in managing their integration into the workplace. Employers need to think carefully about any action they take and consider the potential legal consequences associated with these actions.

If you are an employer, now you are most likely thinking, 'What can I do about the vaccine and my workplace?'. The answer is simple, employees cannot be forced to avail of the vaccine however it is vitally important that employers promote that their employees take a vaccine. The best way to take a proactive stance here is to roll out a vaccine policy. We would advise doing this now to help prepare employees. In creating a vaccine policy you’ll want to consider : 

1. Providing your workforce with a list of resources where they can obtain further information about the vaccination programme, for example, gov.ie, HSE.ie. 

2. Your policy must recognise that the decision to avail of the vaccine is the individual's choice however the employer encourages their workforce to make an informed decision through: 

Reading information about COVID-19 vaccinations via official sources; 

Listening to the information the HSE provides when offering a vaccine; and 

Being cautious of misinformation around COVID-19 vaccinations by unreliable sources. 

3. Detail whether your employee's will be paid or un-paid for the leave to attend their appointment.

4. If an employee feels unwell after their vaccination they will be instructed to follow The Company's sick leave policy. 

Lastly, we would recommend :

5. That employers include a section in the vaccine policy about employee's respecting others privacy and not having open discussions about the vaccine with colleagues.

Bright Contracts has recently been updated to include a vaccine policy which covers these consideration points for our customers to include in their employee handbooks, which can be found under the terms and conditions tab. 

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16
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Hello Update! - Additions to the Return to Work Safely Protocol

As vaccines roll out and employees begin to return to the office, updates to policies and procedures are changing as a result, so we are back again with a update to The Return to Work Safely Protocol which came into effect in May 2021 to include new learnings on Covid in the workplace. It incorporates the current advice on the Public Health measures needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community and workplaces. The updated Work Safely Protocol provides further guidance for employers in relation to ventilation as part of the range of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as information on how to approach the use of antigen testing in the workplace. 

The updated Protocol is very detailed in relation to the introduction of antigen diagnostic tests and rapid antigen diagnostic tests. 

Firstly let's discuss what is antigen testing?

The COVID-19 antigen test uses a swab to take a sample from your nose. The sample does not need to go to a lab. The test results are quicker than the COVID-19 PCR test, but it has some limitations.

With the update to the protocol employers must:

  • Consult with workers and representatives, as well as the lead worker representative(s) and the safety representatives, before any testing regime is introduced in the workplace and a process for workers who do not wish to take part in such testing should be agreed. 
  • The updated Protocol also sets out that a written occupational health and safety risk assessment to take account of this new work activity and specific risks associated with the use of rapid antigen diagnostic testing in the workplace should be completed.

The spread of the virus is most likely when infected people are in close contact so the risk of getting COVID-19 is higher in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces where infected people spend long periods of time together in close proximity therefore it is important to maximise ventilation in areas where people are in close contact. 

Ventilation, refers to the movement of outdoor air into a building, and the circulation of that air within the building or room while removing stale air to improve the air quality. This can be achieved through natural means (e.g. opening a window) or by mechanical means e.g. HVAC systems. 

Reoccupying workplaces should not, in most cases, require new ventilation systems but improvements to ventilation will help increase the quantity of clean air and reduce the risk of exposure to airborne concentrations of the virus. While ventilation reduces the amount of virus in the air and the aerosol risk, it will have minimal impact on contact transmission (touching surfaces) or droplet transmission where people are within 2 metres of each other. Droplets containing the virus will settle onto the surrounding surfaces within seconds, smaller particles can stay suspended for longer which is why ventilation is not a standalone measure and continued adherence to other public health advice is absolutely essential.

Employers can also seek to reduce the risk of transmission by limiting the numbers of workers in a given area and paying particular attention to work activities that increase deeper breathing. Determining ventilation of enclosed workplace settings should be considered as part of the workplace risk assessment which should consider the following:

- How you currently provide ventilation (fresh air) in your workplace?

- How many workers occupy or use the area(s)?

- How much time do workers spend in the area(s)?

- Are there any features in the workplace which might affect ventilation?

- Does the workplace have multiple or complex ventilation systems in place?

It is advised to speak to the building engineer or system manufacturer before implementing any changes relating to mechanical ventilation.

Further information on ventilation is available at: 

- HPSC – Guidance on non-healthcare settings

- World Health Organisation?

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