Returning to work safely following COVID-19 closures and work safely protocols


The Government’s Resilience and Recovery 2020 – 2021: Plan for living with COVID-19 sets out how we can live and work with COVID-19. 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.

This document is a summary of the work safely protocol published by the HSA, the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The protocol describes the steps that employers and employees should take before a workplace reopens to make sure they can return to work safely. It also covers how businesses should operate after they reopen to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The Health Safety Authority (HSA) will carry out workplace inspections and provide guidance for employers. If their advice is not implemented, the HSA can shut down the workplace. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) will also carry out inspections and provide guidance to employers.

Both employers and employees should keep up to date with the latest HSE advice and guidance.

You can get more detailed information in the revised Work Safely Protocol (pdf) (Previously called the Return to Work Safely Protocol). The revised protocol sets out the minimum measures needed in every workplace to manage and prevent the spread of infection. It gives information on the selection of hand sanitisers, the wearing of face masks, ventilation of workplaces and symptoms. There may be additional safeguards in different workplaces. The protocol may change or be updated over time. Please check back as we will continue to add information to this document as it is updated.

Planning for return to work

All employers must prepare and put systems and controls in place before they reopen their business and workplaces.

Your employer must:

  • Appoint at least one lead worker representative to make sure safety measures are in place and being followed. A short online course on the role of lead worker representative can be found on the HSA website.
  • Update business and safety plans, including the business COVID-19 Response Plan, the occupational health and safety risk assessment and the safety statement. Include how to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the safety plans and appoint a dedicated manager in charge of dealing with suspected cases.
  • Develop, consult on, communicate and implement workplace changes or policies.
  • Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff.
  • Put in place temperature testing in line with public health advice.
  • Put in place any mass COVID-19 testing needed in line with public health advice.

Pre-return to work form

An employer must send out a pre-return to work form to employees before their return to work.

  • The employee must submit the form before they return to work.
  • The form will ask employees to confirm they have not had symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been diagnosed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been in close contact with someone confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days and are not restricting their movements, self-isolating or cocooning.
  • You can get a return to work form template from the HSA website. Note: Completed forms should only be kept for as long as necessary by the employer and in line with the advice from the Data Protection Commission.

Getting to and from work

You should travel alone if using your personal car for work or at a maximum travel with one other passenger who should adhere to physical distancing guidelines and a face covering must be worn. Your employer should give you hand sanitisers and cleaning equipment for your work vehicle.

Walk or cycle where possible.

If you are using public transport, you must wear a face covering.

Businesses should refer to the latest Government advice in relation to essential overseas travel for employees.

Staying safe at work

Employers and employees should work together to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and know the symptoms of COVID-19. The complete list of COVID-19 symptoms is available on the HSE Website.

Employer’s responsibilities

Your employer must:

  • Have appropriate hygiene facilities in place, display posters of good hand washing practices and have proper ventilation for example open doors and windows.
  • Give tissues as well as bins or bags for employee’s disposal.
  • Empty bins regularly and provide advice on good respiratory practice, including the safe use, storage and disposal of face masks.
  • Provide for physical distancing across all work activities of at least 2 metres as much as possible. (Staggering breaks, or place teams in pods, put in place arrangements for meetings and canteen facilities, put in place a no handshaking policy, no sharing of cups or pens, adapt sign in or sign out systems). Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards between workers were 2 metre distancing is not possible. For guidelines on physical distancing in the hospitality sector, see ‘Returning to work in pubs, restaurants and the hospitality sector’ below.
  • Keep a log of contacts to help with contact tracing.
  • Have regular cleaning of the workplace and provide hand sanitisers. An alcohol based sanitiser must have a minimum of 60% alcohol. See the Work Safely Protocol (pdf) for more details on cleaning and advice on choosing a hand sanitiser.
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protective clothing where there is an identified COVID-19 exposure risk and in line with public health advice. You can get more information on PPE from the HSA.
  • Make sure employees look after their mental health and well-being and are aware of any employee assistance programmes.

If an employee has symptoms of COVID-19

If an employee has symptoms of the virus during work hours, your employer must have a designated isolation area for employees and must follow a specific procedure:

  • The designated manager must direct the person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route (make provisions for one or more persons displaying symptoms such as an additional isolation area or have contingency plans in place)
  • Maintain a 2 metre distance
  • Provide a face mask for the person presenting with symptoms. The worker should wear the mask if in a common area with other people or while exiting the premises
  • Arrange for the employee to stay in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, public transport should not be used.
  • Arrange for appropriate cleaning of the isolation area and work areas
  • Carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken

Employee’s responsibilities

As an employee, you should:

  • Follow the public health advice and guidance
  • Work together with your employer and follow any specific procedures and instructions from your employer to keep safe
  • Adopt good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing
  • Get professional healthcare advice if you are unwell
  • Not go to work if you have any symptoms of COVID-19
  • Let your employer know if you believe there are reasons why it is not safe for you to be at work, or if you are concerned that you could be putting a member of your household at risk

Returning to work in pubs, restaurants and the hospitality sector

Restaurants, cafes and pubs that serve food can remain open for take-away and delivery services only. Wet pubs must remain closed.

Hotel services are open only for essential non-social and non-tourist purposes.

Hairdressers, beauticians and barbers, remain closed.

Nightclubs, discos and casinos remain closed.

Employers should follow the Return to work safely protocols (see ‘Staying safe at work’ above) and Fáilte Ireland’s guidelines for reopening.

Physical distancing of 2 metres should be maintained between employees where possible. Where this is not possible, physical distancing of at least 1 metre should be maintained.

In food service areas where physical distancing is difficult, your employer should:

  • Minimise direct contact between employees
  • Provide hand washing facilities and hand cleaning aids such as hand sanitisers, and wipes that are easy to access
  • Make face coverings available in line with public health advice
  • Limit the number of employees in the food preparation area at one time
  • Organise workers into groups to reduce the interaction between workers

If your employer provides you with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it is possible to reduce physical distance requirements.

If you wear a uniform or your workplace has a dress code, your employer should update the company policy to reflect any changes made to what you are asked to wear at work.

You should take responsibility for your own hand hygiene and make sure that you clean your hands for at least 20 seconds regularly throughout your shift.

Fáilte Ireland has support services available for employees in the hospitality and tourism sector:

  • I Am Here provides mental health support and learning
  • An employee assistance programme for formal supports can be contacted on 1800 201346.

Where can I make a complaint?

The role of the Health and Safety Authority is to ensure compliance with Work Safely Protocol. If an employee feels the workplace is not in compliance with this protocol which includes social distancing guidelines, they can raise their concerns with the HSA and they will address the concerns with their employer. You can make a complaint using the HSA’s online complaint form. You should raise your concern with your employer first to give them the opportunity to address the issue.

Further information

Both employers and employees can find out when various business can reopen in the Government’s Living with COVID-19 plan.

Everyone should stay safe and make themselves aware of the advice in the work safely protocol (pdf). Employers can get return to work COVID-19 templates and checklists and COVID-19 posters and signs from the HSA. The HSA also have return to work safely online courses. The Skillnet Ireland ReBound initiative gives small businesses online training and mentoring on implementing the return to work safely protocol.

Employers can get information on the financial supports and business advice available to help with their cash flow, payroll and long-term investments. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has set up a business support call centre for information on the supports available for businesses affected by COVID-19. You can call 01 631 2002 or email You can also find contact details for the Health and Safety Authority. You are encouraged to contact the HSA electronically during COVID-19 as their staff are working remotely and they have limited access to post.

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
Page edited: 4 January 2021