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Guidance for working remotely during COVID-19

National guidance for employers and employees seeking to engage with remote working solutions.

In December 2019 the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation published Remote Work in Ireland, a report on the prevalence and types of remote working solutions in Ireland, the attitudes towards them and influencing factors for employees and employers when engaging with these solutions.

The report found that there is a need for national guidance for employers and employees seeking to engage with remote working solutions. Following its publication, DBEI committed to the delivery of this guidance.

Much has changed since the publication of this report. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, those who could conceivably work from home have been encouraged to do so, resulting in an unprecedented instance of mass homeworking. In addition to the existing guidance in place, new guidance has been released from a number of sources to advise employers and employees on the practicalities of short-term homeworking.

This webpage details the guidance already available for employers and employees across a number of topics and contains links to the new guidance released in response to remote working during COVID-19.

Safety, Health and Welfare

The responsibility for health and safety at work rests with the employer regardless of whether an employee works remotely.

Employers’ responsibility for employees’ welfare in the workplace is detailed in a number of different pieces of legislation, such as:               

In response to COVID-19 and increased levels of employees working from home, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has published a set of Frequently Asked Questions for employees and employers on areas to be aware of when employees are working remotely on a temporary basis.

This includes advice on topics such as, the key responsibilities for the employer, ergonomic assessments of an employee’s home workspace, equipment provision and good practice when using digital technologies. This publication also contains FAQs for employees on topics such as the key responsibilities of employees, maintaining communication, and good practice in setting up a workspace.

The HSA has also produced a ‘Position Yourself Well’ infographic to help workers in setting up an ergonomic workspace.

If employees have a disability, are young workers or are pregnant, the employer needs to ensure that the tasks and working conditions do not adversely affect their health. The HSA has provided further information on sensitive risk groups.

Bullying and Work-Related Stress

Safety, health and welfare at work also covers psychosocial aspects such as bullying and work-related stress. The HSA provides information on the definition of bullying at work which also outlines the responsibilities of employers and employees in this area. Employers can access a course on Managing Bullying Complaints at Work, which is part of a range of free online courses on health and safety topics available on the HSA’s eLearning portal.

The employer has a duty to have safe systems of work in place; he or she should ensure that the system of work for those working from home is reasonable. This includes supervision, communication, training, breaks, supports, and fairness, allocation of work and respectful behaviour and management.

In the context of temporary homeworking during the outbreak of COVID-19, the HSA advises that where employees feel added stress from the location of their work, the employer should act reasonably. As such, where stress complaints do arise, these should be met with considered, systematic and appropriate control measures. The HSA provides a Guide on Work Related Stress and has released a podcast which addresses this topic in the context of returning to work under COVID-19.

Employment Conditions

Employers have certain responsibilities towards their employees regardless of whether an employee works remotely. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) outlines these obligations in their ‘What You Should Know’ webpage which includes information on employer obligations, hours and wages, annual leave and codes of practice.

Organisation of Working Time

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 states that employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that their employees receive their proper breaks within the day, as well as their daily and weekly rest. They also must receive their statutory entitlement to annual leave and public holiday entitlements. In this context, a time management system to record time and attendance is advisable.

The WRC has published guidance on working time, including an explanatory booklet (PDF) for employers and employees detailing the information included in this Act.

Equipment Provision, Home Expenses and Tax Reliefs

Revenue has produced guidelines for employers with employees working from home on the topic of the provision of equipment and facilities, home expenses, and relevant tax implications. Revenue has also published similar guidance for employees working from home. These guidelines are aimed at people who are working at home part-time or full-time.

Data Protection

Remote Access to Networks

According to the Data Protection Commission where a staff member/contractor is allowed to access an employer’s network from a remote location, such access creates a potential weakness in the system. For this reason, the need for such access should be properly assessed and security measures reassessed before remote access is granted. The Data Protection Commission have published guidance on this topic in their Guidance Note for Controllers on Data Security.

Protecting Personal Data

In response to the sharp increase in people working from home, protecting personal data is increasingly important. The Data Protection Commission has released a note on Protecting Personal Data When Working Remotely. This covers best practice for employees when using devices, emails, cloud and network access, and paper records.

To promote good practice within an organisation, employers can share this information via an infographic provided by the Data Protection Commission.

Cyber Security

The National Cyber Security Centre has released Cyber Security Guidance on Working from Home. Phishing, vishing, remote access threats and business email compromise are identified as the key challenges faced by organisations in a time of increased remote working. The guidance also contains advice on how employees working from home can maximise wi-fi security, good practice when using personal or work devices, and remote conferencing.

Equality

According to the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 employers may not discriminate against employees or potential employees on the basis of nine defined grounds of discrimination. An overview on the Employment Equality Acts is available from the Citizens Information Board.

The aspects of employment which are covered under the Employment Equality Acts include:

  • Advertising of position
  • Equal pay
  • Access to employment
  • Vocational training and work experience
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Promotion or re-grading
  • Classification of posts
  • Dismissal
  • Collective agreements

Employers should ensure that this legislation is being adhered to regardless of whether their employees are based remotely or not. Employers should also be aware of these aspects of the Equality Acts when rolling out home working or relevant training within their organisation.

Training

The Remote Work in Ireland report highlighted that training for employees working remotely and for managers in managing distributed teams would therefore be a major enabler in the successful implementation of remote work policies.

In response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the future remote working opportunities, Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board (ETB), in collaboration with IDA Ireland, SOLAS and Grow Remote, have created two new online national training programmes that develop the capability and capacity of prospective and current remote workers and line managers nationally. Both courses are seven weeks in duration.

The Longford and Westmeath ETB, via the Athlone Training Centre, offers training on the ‘Effective Management of Remote Workers’. This course is offered online and is aimed at both people working remotely or managing a remote team. The Longford and Westmeath ETB also offers training on using Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

Cork Training Centre offers training on effective remote working and leading and project managing remote teams. Both of these courses are available online for a twelve-week duration.

The Trainers’ Learning Skillnet has also produced fully online 1 and 2-day training courses on the topic of remote work. Three courses are available, aimed at remote workersline managers, and HR/L&D professionals.

Additional Supports

Additional supports are available to employers and employees working remotely during COVID-19. Enterprise Ireland has produced advice on managing remote working and maintaining employee motivation and engagement when working remotely.

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