Publications & Insights COVID 19 and working from home – health and safety and data protection bodies publish guidance
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COVID 19 and working from home – health and safety and data protection bodies publish guidance

Monday, 16 March 2020

The Health and Safety Authority and the Data Protection Commission have both published guidance that will assist employers and employees in relation to working from home as part of the national response to COVID-19.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) guidance (here) is entitled “FAQs for Employers and Employees in relation to Home-Working on a temporary basis (COVID-19)”.

The HSA reminds employers of their duty to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all employees, which include duties in respect of an employee’s workspace where an employee is required to work from home. Employers are not obliged to conduct an inspection of each employee’s home. While each employer should “determine whether the temporary home workspace is suitable for the work you want the employee to do” this determination can be done by means of asking the employee to provide information about their own home workspace.

"Examples of questions you could ask about the temporary workspace include the following:

  • Do you have a suitable space to work from temporarily?
  • Can you access the workspace easily and safely?
  • Is there adequate light, ventilation and heat to allow you to work comfortably?
  • Is there enough space to allow you to work without twisting, bending or sitting/standing awkwardly?
  • Is there enough workspace to accommodate the equipment or other materials needed for the activity?
  • Is the floor clear and dry, e.g., kept clear of electrical cables or anything else you could trip over / slip on?
  • Is the workspace free of clutter?
  • Are electrical sockets, plugs and cords in good condition e.g. no charring, exposed wiring or frayed cables?”

To this list would be added any other questions that an employer believes is relevant having regard to the nature of the work done by the employee.  

Employees’ responses to these questions should be recorded.   If an employee answers “no” to any question then the employer should take immediate action to establish what risk may exist and how it can be addressed.

Employers need to take specific risk assessment measures in respect of any employee who is in a “sensitive risk group”, that is if the employee is:

  • pregnant;
  • a night worker;
  • a shift worker;
  • a young worker (under 18); or
  • a worker with a disability.

In the case of such “sensitive risk groups” the employer should consider the following in relation to the employee’s work and workspace. Does the employee have:

  • safe access to the workspace;
  • the equipment necessary to complete the work;
  • sufficient workspace;
  • adequate lighting, heat and ventilation to allow comfortable working;
  • adequate breaks;
  • regular contact with his or her employer;
  • emergency contacts and procedures.

The HSA guidance contains more detail, both on employer and employee obligations. Employers who facilitate home working during the present circumstances should, where possible, ask employees to confirm that they have read and understood the HSA guidance.

Separately, the Data Protection Commission (DPC) has issued guidance entitled “Protecting personal data when working remotely” (here).

This DPC guidance provides practical advice about how employees can maintain appropriate levels of data security when working away from the office.  It relates to the use of devices; email protocol and cloud and network access.

Employees working remotely should be asked to confirm that they have read and understood this guidance and should also be provided with copies of their employers’ data security policies.

For further information or more detailed advice, please contact Loughlin Deegan or Emmet Whelan from the ByrneWallace Employment Law team.  

Separately, we have also written an article on the data protection issues for organisations to consider when taking steps to contain and mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Please click here to review. 

Please note that the content of this summary does not amount to professional advice. Legal and tax advice should be sought in respect of specific queries. The COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly and this update is provided on the basis of information available as at 16 March 2020.