COVID 19 – GUIDANCE TO BROKERS ON RETURNING TO THE OFFICE

Wed May 20 2020

Dear Member,

This week has seen the commencement of the first phase of the Government Roadmap, which will allow the reopening of society and business in a slow, phased way. The plan sets out five stages for unlocking restrictions, at three-week intervals. The framework sets out how we can keep the level of transmission as low as possible, whilst balancing continuing restrictions proportionately with the positive social and economic benefits that will be brought about by lifting restrictions.

Brokers Ireland has been examining the COVID 19 Legislation, the Roadmap and the Protocol (all referred to below) to provide advice to our Members on when and how you may return to office working

Essential Services

Brokers Ireland lobbied successfully for services offered by our Members to be deemed essential services. This successful lobbying ensured that Brokers’ services are essential services under Covid-19 legislation.  This has meant that you and your employees have been allowed to travel to work where you are deemed to be carrying out essential services and you are unable to undertake that work remotely. Members of the public are entitled to leave home to access essential services where that access is immediately required. The Regulations may be found here:

Government Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business

On 3 May 2020, the Government Roadmap for reopening society and business was announced. The Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business and the Overview of Reopening Phases may be found here:

The Roadmap has been described as a “living document”, which may change as required by circumstances. Therefore, it is important to note that the dates for the commencement of each Phase may change. Brokers will have seen that the Roadmap makes clear that for each Phase referred to, employers are urged to “continue to maintain remote working for all workers / businesses that can do so”. Nevertheless, it is important that you prepare for when you and your staff return to the office.

What does the Roadmap mean for Brokers?

Brokers Ireland has once again lobbied government, on this occasion to seek confirmation on the Roadmap and what it means for Brokers, in particular the reopening of offices and return to the office of staff.  We are very cognisant that many of our Members are significantly impacted by the strictures placed on you by the COVID 19 Regulations, despite your being an essential service. We are acutely aware that the Roadmap may have lacked clarity or seemed to be contradictory.

Brokers Ireland has sought legal and HR advice to enable us to advise our Members regarding when it will be allowable for you and your staff to return to office working.

From a public health perspective, Brokers need to consider the Community Health Measures in the Roadmap document; for example, there remains a requirement on clients to avoid unnecessary journeys. A 20-kilometre restriction will apply during Phases two and three. Clients should not be asked to breach the Community Health Measures in order to attend a meeting at a brokerage.

Many brokerages should be able to open under the heading of Economic Activity and Work in the Roadmap document during Phase three, because employees should have low levels of daily interaction in the workplace. This might be contrasted with a commercial premises or industrial setting (e.g. workplaces that are not offices) where daily interactions are very large in number. Some smaller brokerages may even be able to open during Phase two, where work is solitary.

Each brokerage must assess ability to comply with requirements and put a plan in place prior to returning to the office. A useful document to reference is Enterprise Ireland’s Covid-19: An Employer’s Guide and, specifically, section 4 of the Guide, which deals with Examples of preventative and precautionary measures, and section 5, which contains a Covid-19 Remote working policy template.  A link to this document may be found here: https://globalambition.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Covid-19-An-Employers-Guide.pdf

Additional obligations on Employers

From an employer perspective, you need always to consider your obligations under the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005, which is to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees.”  Brokers Ireland has reminded our Members of this obligation at each stage of our COVID 19 working advice, as we know that it is easy in a time of crisis to lose sight of it.

National Protocol

The Covid-19 Specific National Protocol for Employers and Workers document was published on 9 May 2020 and contains the Return to Work Safety Protocol. It is in the context of health and safety in the workplace that the National Protocol has just been published. A link to the Protocol may be found here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/22829a-return-to-work-safely-protocol/

Brokers Ireland is aware that the Protocol provides no guidance at all to our Members who may need to visit clients in the clients’ homes. We can advise that we have lobbied in relation to this and will be updating Members in relation to this when we are in a position to.

What does the Protocol Mean for Brokers?

The Protocol describes the workplace controls that are required in each workplace to comply with infection prevention measures. The workplace controls must be implemented by every employer and be communicated and explained to all relevant workers and to all visitors and contractors at each place of work. The Protocol imposes obligations on employers to update employment policies and workplace practices. The Protocol requires the introduction of new workplace paperwork, pre-opening processes and forms, workplace information bulletins/posters, new cleaning practices and hygiene facilities, designated workplace areas and mental health supports. The Protocol advises that physical interaction with customers and clients should be eliminated as much as reasonably practicable through revised working arrangements (e.g. managed entry to premises).

Summary

In summary, from the information and advice we have received to date, it would seem that most brokerages may be able to return to the office in Phase three, where low levels of daily interaction among staff at work are permitted. The National Protocol imposes a number of new obligations and processes on employers, both prior to and during the return to the workplace for employees. The workplaces controls in the National Protocol needs also to be communicated to, explained and implemented in respect of, all workplace visitors and customers.

Please note that the above is only an outline of what is currently in the public domain. It is expected that government advice and guidance will develop and change over time and Brokers Ireland will be keeping abreast of these issues in order to advise you. We also intend to provide written and webinar based guidance on how Brokers may go about complying with the Protocol.

We welcome your ongoing queries, suggestions and feedback and ask that you directly email queries to the following contacts:

Kind Regards

Diarmuid Kelly

CEO Brokers Ireland