Working from home during COVID-19

Introduction

Ireland is on Level 5 restrictions. Under Level 5, only essential workers should travel to work. You should work from home unless you are providing an essential service and need to be physically present.

Some restrictions have eased from 12 April, with further changes expected later in April depending on public health advice.

The Living with COVID-19 plan sets out how we should live and work. The Plan sets out 5 levels that correspond to the severity of COVID-19 in a location. Different levels can be in place in different locations in the country.

Employers must ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all their employees. Employees also have responsibilities when they are working from home.

This page outlines the duties of employers and employee responsibilities during home working, gives general tips on working from home, information on Revenue's e-worker tax relief and where you can get further information.

National Remote Work Strategy

The Government's National Remote Work Strategy helps to make remote working a permanent option in Ireland. It plans to give employees a legal right to request remote working and to introduce a code of practice on the right to disconnect. The new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect (pdf) came into effect on 1 April 2021 – see more below.

The Strategy commits to investment in remote work hubs and development of the national broadband plan. A review of the working from home tax relief will be completed in Budget 2022. The Strategy sets a target that 20% of public sector employees should be working remotely in 2021. You can read the full strategy Making Remote Work: National Remote Work Strategy.

Employers' duties

Employers have specific duties to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all their employees. These duties include the employee’s workspace if employees work from home. Key duties include:

  • Managing and conducting all work activities to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of employees
  • Providing safe work that is planned, organised, and maintained
  • Assessing risks and implementing appropriate control measures
  • Providing safe equipment including personal protective equipment, where necessary
  • Giving information, instruction, training and supervision about safety and health to employees
  • Having plans in place for emergencies

If employees have a disability, are young workers or are pregnant, employers need to ensure that the tasks and working conditions do not adversely affect their health. You can get more information on sensitive risk groups.

Your employer should check with you to ensure:

  • You are aware of any specific risks when working from home
  • The work activity and the temporary workspace are suitable
  • You have suitable equipment to do the work. For example, your employer should make sure that the applications and systems you need are installed on your computer
  • There is a pre-arranged means of contact

Equipment and your workspace at home

If your employer provides equipment, for example, a laptop, mouse, keyboard and headset it must be in good condition and suitable for the activity. If you already have suitable equipment at home, it can be used temporarily.

Employers must check that your temporary home workspace is suitable for the work. This includes things like safe access to the space, essential equipment, that the space is big enough and free of clutter, there is adequate lighting, ventilation, heat, and that electrical sockets, plugs and cords are in good condition.

You can find tips on how to manage work-related musculoskeletal health and other advice on ergonomics on the HSA website.

Employers need to communicate regularly with employees and ensure that employees are taking adequate breaks.

Employers should also:

  • Keep in contact with employees
  • Give regular updates to each employee
  • Have emergency contacts and procedures in place
  • Ensure employees take adequate breaks – see our document on rest periods and breaks.

Even though you are working from home you should have the same access to training and promotion opportunities as comparable colleagues working in the office.

There is an employer’s remote working checklist. You can also find advice on remote work-related stress and other aspects of working from home in the remote working section of the HSA website.

The right to disconnect from work

As well as making sure your employee takes adequate breaks, you should also respect their right to disconnect from work outside of normal working hours.

The Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect (pdf) is effective since 1 April 2021 and applies to all employees, including people working from home. Developed by the Workplace Relations Commission, the Code of Practice provides guidance on an employee’s right to disengage from work outside normal working hours.

Under the code, the right to disconnect has the following main elements:

  • A right not have to routinely work outside normal working hours
  • A right not to be penalised for refusing to work outside normal hours
  • A duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect, for example by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours

As an employer, you are encouraged to develop a ‘Right to Disconnect Policy’. Consult your employees when developing this policy, and make sure they understand what their normal working hours are.

Check that the policy factors in health and safety legislation, as well as your employees’ terms and conditions of employment. You should communicate this policy to all employees, unions and any other employee representatives.

You can find a template of a ‘Right to Disconnect Policy’ (pdf) on page 11 of the WRC handbook.

While failure to follow the code is not an offence, it can be used as evidence in a case taken to the Labour Court or WRC under employment legislation.

Employee responsibilities

If you are working from home, you have a responsibility to take reasonable care of yourself and other people who may be affected by the work you are doing.

You must:

  • Cooperate with your employer and follow their instructions
  • Protect yourself and others from harm during the course of your work. For example, you must take care of your equipment and report any problems immediately to your employer
  • Report injuries to your employer immediately
  • Follow any procedures put in place by your employer, for example, around checking in regularly
  • Make sure you manage your own working time (see 'right to disconnect' below)

You should:

  • Agree temporary remote working arrangements with your employer, including regular communication with them
  • Identify the work to be done at home with your employer
  • Identify the equipment you need to set up a safe workspace at home and agree this with your employer
  • Identify a suitable safe space within your home for home working
  • Agree plans and contacts to be used in the event of an emergency
  • Ensure you have a suitable workspace – See good positioning at your workstation (pdf)

You have a right to disconnect from work outside of your usual working hours. This means you have the right to switch off and not respond immediately to work-related emails, calls or messages outside of usual work times. Similarly, you should respect your colleagues’ right to disconnect from their work too. Read about the Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect (pdf) in the WRC handbook.

People working from home may feel reluctant to tell their employer that they are unwell. It is important to note that if you are feeling unwell the normal sick leave rules still apply.

General tips for working from home

We have summarised general tips to help you look after your health and well-being while working from home temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Try to:

  • Stick to your normal routine as much as possible, starting your day as you normally would: shower, getting dressed and eating breakfast
  • Keep times for lunch, dinner as close to normal as you can
  • When taking breaks resist the temptation to just go and make a coffee and come back to your workspace. Make the effort to go into another room or out to the garden, if you have one
  • Log off for your lunch break
  • If your partner is also working from home, arrange to have breaks together in another room or in the garden, if you have one
  • Give your eyes a break, for 5 to 10 minutes every hour. Get up, move around and take your eyes off the screen
  • Try to limit your social and news media intake
  • Exercise, stretch and go out for a walk if possible
  • Make sure you rest and get a good night’s sleep
  • Restrict the amount of alcohol you consume during the week to help you stay focused
  • Eat healthy foods even though as it is tempting to increase your intake of snack foods
  • Do take annual leave even if your travel plans have been cancelled, it may help to take even a portion of the leave planned so you can concentrate on your own health and wellbeing
  • Keep in touch with your colleagues, pick up the phone or video call colleagues that you would usually spend breaks or lunchtime with and chat to them for a few minutes

Annual leave during COVID-19 restrictions

You continue to build up your annual leave when you are working from home and working your usual hours. You may not want to take annual leave during the COVID-19 restrictions as your travel options are limited.

However, employers may not want you to keep all your leave until later in the year. Your employer may ask you to take some of your leave before a certain date. The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 provides that the timing of an employee’s annual leave can be determined by the employer having regard to work requirements.

Under the Act, an employer can require an employee to take annual leave provided they consult with the employee or their trade union at least one month prior to the taking of annual leave. Employers need to consider the following when deciding on annual leave:

  • The need for the employee to reconcile work and family responsibilities, and
  • The opportunities for rest and recreation available to the employee

It should be noted that employees should be left with a proportionate amount of annual leave for the remainder of the year to allow them avail of opportunities for rest and recreation when businesses return back to normal.

Employers are also entitled to refuse annual leave which has already been booked from being cancelled. Your employer may allow you to carry over annual leave until the next annual leave year.

Data protection and cybersecurity when working from home

The Data Protection Commission has given guidance on protecting personal data when working remotely.

Both employers and employees should ensure that:

  • Any device used has the necessary updates, such as operating system, software and antivirus updates
  • Any device is used in a safe location, and that nobody else can view the screen, particularly if working with sensitive personal data
  • Devices are locked if they are left unattended for any reason and stored carefully when not in use
  • Effective access controls, such as strong passwords, and, where available, encryption are used to restrict access to the device, and to reduce the risk if a device is stolen or lost
  • Work email accounts rather than personal ones are used for work-related emails involving personal data. If personal email has to be used, any contents and attachments should be encrypted and personal or confidential data should be avoided in subject lines
  • Where possible only the organisation’s trusted networks or cloud services are used
  • Steps are taken to ensure the security and confidentiality of paper records, such as by keeping them locked in a filing cabinet or drawer when not in use and making sure they are not left somewhere where they could be read by others, lost or stolen

The National Cyber Security Centre has published Working From Home Security Advice (pdf).

There are certain privacy rules that your employer must follow when monitoring you in the workplace and these rules also apply when you are working from home. You can get information in our document on surveillance in the workplace.

E-working and tax relief

If you are working from home, you may be eligible for tax relief on expenses like light, heat, telephone and broadband.

If your employer pays you an allowance towards these expenses, you can get up to €3.20 per day without paying any tax, PRSI or USC on it. If your employer pays more than €3.20 per day to cover expenses, you pay tax, PRSI and USC as normal on the amount above €3.20.

If your employer does not pay you an allowance for your expenses, you can make a claim for tax relief at the end of the year. You will get money back from the taxes you paid.

You can read more about E-working and tax relief.

Should I pay tax on equipment from my employer?

If your employer gives you equipment that you need to do your work, like a computer or printer, and you mainly use it for work, it is not considered a benefit in kind. This means that you do not have to pay any tax for receiving the equipment from your employer.

Capital Gains Tax

If you use only part of your home for e-working, your home remains your Principal Private Residence and you are not liable for CGT when you sell it.

You can get more information from Revenue.

Can I continue to work from home when the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted?

You do not have a right to work from home.

Your employment rights are primarily set out in your contract of employment. Some employees may have already written into their contract of employment that they can work from home for a number of hours or days per week. Those entitlements will remain the same.

Most contracts of employment have a requirement that the employee must appear at a designated place of work. It is also common for employers to have a right to change the designated place of work. In those circumstances, employers can insist on you returning to the workplace.

You should talk to your employer first to see if you can continue to work from home. This will vary between employers.

Where to get more information

Find out more about:

You can also visit the remote working section of the HSA website for guidance on all aspects of working from home, including FAQs and advice for stress management.

Health and Safety Authority

The Metropolitan Building
James Joyce Street
Dublin 1
D01 K0Y8

Opening Hours: Lines are open on Monday to Fridays 9am - 3pm
Tel: (01) 614 7000
Locall: 1890 28 93 89
Fax: (01) 614 7020
Email: wcu@hsa.ie
Page edited: 12 April 2021