Business

Seamus McGranaghan: Businesses must still follow local guidelines around return to office

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Seamus McGranaghan

FROM yesterday, so-called 'Freedom Day', employees in England will no longer be instructed that they have to work from home, with legal requirements on mask-wearing and social distancing also removed.

But firms in Northern Ireland still need to abide by regional Covid legislation - or risk facing legal action from employees.

Northern Ireland’s guidelines are different to those in England, and appropriate steps should be taken in advance of the return to offices, be it a phased return or a hybrid model.

While the implications will not be relevant to all sectors, risk assessments will inform company policies around social distancing and mask wearing, with procedures in place in the event of a positive test.

With a return to office also comes the issue of compulsory vaccinations, with Covid jabs set to become mandatory for care home staff in England.

And while Health Minister Robin Swann had said there are no such plans for here, there are cases of employers outside of health and social care imposing strict rules on staff.

We have seen cases in England where only those employees who have been vaccinated can return to the office. Careful consideration is therefore needed around staff inoculations and the equality issues that may arise.

These include sex discrimination for pregnant employees, disability discrimination for someone unable to take a vaccine due to medical reasons and religious or philosophical belief due to contents of vaccines.

Last month, O’Reilly Stewart and Legal Island conducted a survey of HR professionals revealing the percentage of firms who have consulted on a hybrid working model.

Of those polled, 42 per cent have begun consulting on a permanent hybrid model, while 48 per cent have plans to consult but have not yet started.

The remaining 12 per cent said hybrid is not feasible for their sector, indicating the different implications for different sectors.

:: Seamus McGranaghan (seamus.mcgranaghan@oreillystewart.com) is a director (commercial) at O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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