Your employment rights during COVID-19

Introduction

You continue to have the same general employment rights during COVID-19 (except for some changes to redundancy rules – see below). You have rights relating to working conditions and statutory leave.

There are specific COVID-19 supports if you have no work or less work than usual because of 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 and the supports you may be entitled to.

Working from home and return to workplaces

Workers can return to the workplace on a phased and staggered basis. Up until 22 October 2021, attendance should initially be for specific business needs. After 22 October 2021, the requirement to work from home will be removed. A return to physical attendance in workplaces will be allowed on a phased and cautious basis. Read about the restrictions in place now.

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 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 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.

The Government has asked employers to be as flexible as possible during COVID-19.

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. Guidance from the Data Protection Commission states that, in general, there is no legal basis to collect or process an employee’s vaccination data.

However, this may not apply to employees who work is high-risk settings, such as frontline workers. In this situation, your employer could collect data relating to your vaccination status, as a necessary health and safety measure (pdf).

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 section D14 of 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, the lead workers representative, the safety representative and the union (if there is one)
  • Agree a process for workers who do not want to take part in the RADT testing
  • Update the COVID-19 Response plan and any other policies and procedure to take account of the agreed testing policy
  • Provide training for all staff who are engaged in the RADT testing, so you can undertake the test safely and correctly
  • Agree clear protocols for managing positive cases

Any employer who is setting up an RADT testing regime, should consult the detailed guidance in section D13 of the Work Safely Protocol (pdf).

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.

You can get more information on RADTs in the Appendix of the protocol (pdf).

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

If your employer has 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 Wage Subsidy Scheme to help them with some of the costs of paying wages. This means that workers retain their link with employers and they do not need to personally submit a jobseeker's claim.

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 where, due to a reduction in the amount of work to be done, either:

  • Your weekly pay is less than half your normal weekly pay or
  • The hours you work 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 are still 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

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

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.

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 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.

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 and cannot work from home and must be in the workplace, your employer must make sure that you are supported to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres from others at the workplace.

If you are in the very high risk (extremely vulnerable) category, 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 read more about at risk workers in the Work Safely protocol (pdf).

Annual leave during COVID-19

You continue to build up your annual leave once you are working your usual hours. This applies even if you are working from home. 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. Under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, the timing of an employee’s annual leave can be determined by the employer, taking into consideration work and personal requirements.

Under the Act, an employer can require an employee to take annual leave. They must consult with you or your trade union at least one month before you are required to take the annual leave. Employers need to consider the following when deciding on annual leave:

  • Your need to reconcile work and family responsibilities, and
  • The opportunities for rest and recreation available to you

You should be left with a proportionate amount of annual leave for the remainder of the year, so that you have chances for rest and recreation when businesses return back to normal.

Employers are also entitled to refuse to cancel annual leave which you have already booked in. Your employer may allow you to carry over annual leave until the next annual leave year.

You continue to build up annual leave when you are on certified sick leave or other statutory leave including maternity leave, adoptive leave, parental leave, force majeure leave and the first 13 weeks of carer's leave.

Workplace disputes during COVID-19

You can make a complaint about your employment rights to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). You must use the online complaint form. You can read this list of frequently asked questions about making a complaint.

The WRC procedures for its adjudication, mediation and conciliation services have changed during COVID-19 – see table below for a summary of the revised service delivery model.

Revised service delivery model How it works Get more information
Mediation by phone The Mediation Service is offering mediation by phone in suitable cases. See pages 1-2 of the WRC matrix for dealing with complaints (pdf)
Written procedure The WRC will review complaints and identify those that are suitable for the written procedure process.

Parties must agree to dealing with the complaint by written procedure and can object within 42 days of being informed.

See Appendix 2 of the WRC matrix for dealing with complaints (pdf).
Remote hearings If a complaint is submitted for adjudication, the WRC can hear it remotely, as long as this is fair to the people involved, and in the interests of justice. This came into effect under SI 359/2020. See Appendix 3 of the WRC matrix for dealing with complaints (pdf)
Face to face hearings The WRC postponed all face to face adjudication hearings, conciliation meetings and mediations, while current restrictions are in place. Keep an eye on the WRC website for regular updates on when face-to-face hearings and meetings will resume.

Following a Supreme Court judgment, the law covering certain WRC procedures has been updated, as follows:

  • Hearings are open to the public (except cases where there are ‘special circumstances’)
  • Decisions are no longer be anonymised on publication
  • WRC adjudicators now have statutory powers to administer an oath or affirmation
  • Giving false evidence under oath is a crime that can be prosecuted

The changes are effective from 29 July 2021. You can read more in the WRC guidance on Workplace Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021.

Page edited: 23 September 2021