Your employment rights during COVID-19

Introduction

You continued to have the same general employment rights during COVID-19.

There are some new protections around the right to disconnect, if you are working from home. The Government has issued guidance on vaccinations and antigen testing in the workplace under the revised Work Safely Protocol.

This page gives an overview of the protections for employees during COVID-19.

Working from home and return to workplaces

Workers can return to the workplace.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has guidance on working from home for employees and an FAQ section if you are working at home on a temporary basis or under a blended working arrangement.

The code of practice on the right to disconnect is effective since 1 April 2021 and applies to all employees, including people working from home. It provides guidance on an employee’s right to disengage from work outside normal working hours.

You should engage with your employer as soon as possible if you have concerns about being asked to attend your workplace.

If you are worried about returning to work

Employers must take reasonable steps to provide a safe place of work for their staff. Your employer has further obligations under the Work Safely Protocol (pdf). Our page on working safely during COVID-19 has information about what your employer should do to ensure that your workplace is safe.

If your employer refuses to meet their obligations you can make a complaint to the Health and Safety Authority. You should raise your concern with your employer, or a trade union (if available) before taking a formal complaint. If your employer dismisses you because you refused to return to work because of safety concerns, and you can prove that the workplace was unsafe, you could take a complaint for unfair dismissal.

You may face disciplinary action if you do not want to return to work (in situations where you cannot work from home) if your employer has work available for you and has taken reasonable steps to ensure that your workplace is safe. You should discuss the concerns you have about returning to work with your employer. You may be able to resolve the issues without having to take formal action.

If you are in the high risk or very high risk category

For some workers, the risks are higher from COVID-19. There are two levels of higher risk – high risk and very high risk (extremely vulnerable).

If you are in the very high risk or high-risk categories you should follow public health advice in relation to mask wearing, including wearing a surgical or FFP2 mask when in crowded indoor settings.

Your employer should take account of your particular needs. You may be particularly concerned about returning to the physical workplace and your employer should engage and address concerns.

You may have to undertake a medical risk assessment with an Occupational Health practitioner or your GP before returning to the workplace. Your employer should support you to work from home where possible. You can get more guidance on Fitness to Work from the HSA website.

If you are sick or have been asked to self-isolate

If you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, you should not go to work under any circumstances. You should self-isolate and get a test as soon as possible. COVID-19 symptoms are explained on the HSE website.

If you are sick with COVID-19, you may be entitled to sick pay from your employer. This depends on your contract of employment. Your employer does not have to pay you when you cannot come to work because you are sick with COVID-19, unless it is part of your contract of employment.

If your employer does not pay you, you should apply for COVID-19 enhanced Illness Benefit from the Department of Social Protection.

Vaccinations

The decision to get a vaccination against COVID-19 is voluntary. Therefore you can make your own decision about whether or not to get a vaccination.

Your employer may provide you with advice and information on the vaccination programme so that you have the necessary information to make an informed decision.

Telling your employer your vaccination status

In most cases, you do not have to tell your employer whether or not you are vaccinated. The Work Safely Protocol does not currently require employers to collect any information regarding vaccination status. Updated guidance (pdf) from the Data Protection Commission confirms this.

However, an employer may have a legitimate reason to know whether you or vaccinated or not as a necessary health and safety measure. An employer’s decision that it requires knowledge of employees’ vaccination status should be subject to a risk assessment and based on any sector-specific guidance.

In the course of carrying out their public health duties, a Medical Officer of Health may require access to the vaccination status of employees, where an outbreak of COVID-19 has been identified in a workplace. This is specifically permissible under data protection law when it is at the request of the Medical Officer of Heath, carried out on a case-by-case basis and is determined as necessary.

Workplace exposure to COVID-19

In some workplaces, exposure to COVID-19 may be a health risk to workers, for example workers in laboratory settings. In this case, an employer must complete a risk assessment and implement suitable control measures. Your employer can offer you a vaccination but you do not have to accept the offer.

If you decide not to accept the offer of a vaccination, your employer must review their risk assessment and decide whether you can carry out your work without vaccination, and what other protective measures are needed. In some cases, your employer may have no option but to redeploy you to another task or role. Your employer must agree this with a medical practitioner and you must be consulted.

You can get more detailed guidance on vaccinations in the Work Safely Protocol (pdf).

Antigen testing in the workplace

Rapid Antigen Diagnostic Tests (RADTs) can detect the presence or absence of specific antigens or proteins on the surface of the virus.

Your employer can, with your agreement, implement additional checks by setting up a RADT testing regime.

Your employer must discuss and agree the implementation of a testing regime with you and your representatives.

Employers must make sure that public health advice regarding hand washing, mask wearing, respiratory etiquette, physical distancing and ventilation are still fully adhered to in the workplace.

Changes to redundancy rules during COVID-19

The law on claiming redundancy from your employer if you have been temporarily laid off, or temporarily put on short-time work changed during COVID-19.

Normally, if you are laid off or put on short-time hours, you can claim redundancy from your employer after 4 weeks or more, or 6 weeks in the last 13 weeks. These rules were suspended temporarily during the COVID-19 emergency period. After 30 September 2021, you can claim redundancy and access redundancy payments in the usual way.

If you have to care for someone

If you are not sick, but you cannot go to work because you have to care for a child or other relative, you can ask for paid leave. If your employer cannot give you paid leave, you can ask for statutory leave. Statutory means that the leave is set out in law, for example, your right to parental leave.

Paid compassionate leave

Employers may be flexible in assisting employees with care arrangements. This could include:

  • Offering paid compassionate leave
  • Allowing you to work from home
  • Altering your shifts, so that you can coordinate caring between you and your partner, or another person.
  • Allowing you to rearrange holidays
  • Allowing you to take paid time off that you can work back at a later time

Statutory leave

If none of the options above are available to you, and you cannot arrange for paid leave from your employer, you can apply for one of the statutory schemes below.

You are allowed to take 3 days force majeure leave in a 12-month period, or 5 days in a 36 month period. You can ask your employer to allow you to take the full 5 days paid force majeure leave together.

You normally give your employer 6 weeks’ notice if you want to take parental or parent’s leave, but you can ask your employer to waive this notice period.

Your employer does not have to pay you when you are on parental or parent’s leave. If you are on parent’s leave you can apply for Parent’s Benefit. If you are on parental leave, you can apply for means-tested Supplementary Welfare Allowance.

You can read more about the childcare supports for parents in our page on childcare and COVID-19.

If you are pregnant

Our page Social welfare payments and COVID-19 has information about your social welfare options if you are pregnant and have been laid off or made unemployed.

You can read about pregnancy and COVID-19 and you can read information for pregnant women on COVID-19 from the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. This information is available in 5 languages.

Workplace disputes

If you have a complaint about your employment rights, you should first speak to your employer.

If you cannot resolve the problem informally, you can make a formal complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) using their online complaint form. Before you make a complaint, read our page about how to make a complaint to the WRC, which includes information about providing evidence for your case and what to expect at the hearing.

You may also want to read the WRC’s guidance for visitors in face-to-face hearings in WRC offices during COVID-19 (pdf).

They also have a list of frequently asked questions about making a complaint.

Page edited: 23 March 2022