Your employment rights during COVID-19


Since March 2020, because of COVID-19, many workers have been unable to go to their regular place of work. Where possible, they have worked from home. For many workers who are unable to work from home, this has been a very uncertain time.

Until 18 May, only workers who provided essential services, like healthcare professionals or supermarket staff, could attend their workplace. Everyone else was advised to work from home. As restrictions were lifted, more people have returned to the workplace.

The Government’s Living with COVID-19 plan aims to help people go about their daily lives as much as possible, while managing the behaviour of the virus. Businesses have been taking workers back, and implementing the obligations set out in the Returning to Work Safely Protocol.

The current advice is to continue to work from home where possible.

This document outlines your employment rights during the pandemic. You can also read about:

If you are worried about returning to work

If you are unable to work from home and your employer has informed you to prepare to return to work, you may have concerns about your health and safety. You may be afraid of using public transport or have concerns that your workplace may not be safe.

You should work from home unless it is absolutely essential for you to attend in person. If you can work from home, you are advised to only attend work for essential on-site meetings, inductions and training. Employers continue to determine what roles are required to be done in the workplace and therefore which staff must report to their workplaces.

You should engage with your employer as soon as possible if you have concerns.

Employers are obliged to take reasonable steps to provide a safe place of work for their staff. Your employer has further obligations under the Return to Work Safely Protocol. Our document on Returning to work safely has information about what your employer must 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 your employer has work available for you and

  • You cannot work from home and
  • Your employer has taken reasonable steps to ensure that your workplace is safe and
  • You do not want to return to work

You should discuss the concerns you have about returning to work with your employer, because you may be able to resolve the issues without having to take formal action.

The Government has asked employers to be as flexible as possible during the current public health emergency.

If your employer has no work for you, or less work than usual

Your employer may have closed their business during COVID-19 restrictions and sent you home. This is called a temporary lay-off. During lay off you remain an employee even if you are not being paid. Find out more about lay-off and short-time working.

Employers can use the Employment COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme to help them with some of the costs of paying wages. This means that workers retain their link with employers and there is no need for them to personally submit a jobseeker's claim.

If your employer cannot pay you and you have lost all your employment, you can apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

If your employer reduces your hours to 3 days or less per week from your normal full-time hours, you can apply for a payment called Short Time Work Support which is a form of Jobseeker’s Benefit.

Your employer can also put you on short-time working which is a more formal procedure and applies in the following situation:

  • Due to a reduction in the amount of work to be done, your weekly pay is less than half your normal weekly pay or
  • Your hours worked are reduced to less than half your normal weekly working hours

Annual leave and public holidays during lay off or short-time working

During lay off or short-time working, you still are employed by your employer and your contract of employment remains in force. This means that you are entitled to benefit for any public holidays that occur during the first 13 weeks of lay off.

You do not accrue annual leave during lay off but you are entitled to take annual leave that you accrued before being laid off.

Changes to redundancy rules during COVID-19 emergency period

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

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.

If you were put on lay off or short-time hours because of COVID-19, you cannot claim redundancy. This is set out in the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act (pdf) and applies from 13 March 2020.

This rule has been extended to last until 30 November 2020.

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. You should contact your GP for advice. Coronavirus symptoms are explained on the HSE website.

While you are sick with coronavirus, 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 coronavirus, 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 Employment Affairs and Social Protection. You can read more in our document on COVID-19 enhanced Illness Benefit.

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 have been asked to be as flexible as possible in assisting employees with care arrangements during the pandemic. 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.

  • Force majeure leave (this is paid leave)
  • Parental leave if you are looking after a child up to the age of 12 (or 16 if the child has a disability)
  • Parent’s leave if you are caring for a child up to the age 1 who was born after 1 November 2019

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 wave 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 document on childcare and COVID-19.

If you are pregnant

Our document 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 coronavirus 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.

Page edited: 15 September 2020