Who is protecting the employee from contracting Covid-19 (the “Coronavirus”)?

Written by
Sean Fitzgerald on
16 April 2020

Exposure to Covid-19 presents a serious health risk to employees in the workplace.  This is a risk which has never been encountered before.

There is no doubt we have seen a bust and boom for employees in recent weeks. There has been an obliteration of the hospitality sector with thousands of employees being laid off indefinitely. This is juxtaposed by a significant increase in demand for employees in the supermarket and healthcare sectors. These jobs carry a higher risk of infection as they require high levels of public interaction. Unfortunately, some workers will contract the virus and will have to live with the long-lasting consequences to their health. For this reason, one must ask, who is protecting these employees from contracting Covid-19?

There are no specific obligations on employers apart from the general guidelines to carry out a risk assessment of their employee’s workplace and those set out by the Health Service Executive and the Health & Safety Authority. For employees in high risk workplaces like hospitals, a detailed biological agents risk assessment is compulsory.  The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 states both employers and employees have a general duty of care to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of employees as far as reasonably practicable.

Given the scale of the crisis there is a concern that front-line workers, who are protecting all Irish society, are not themselves being adequately protected.  The reported supply shortages of adequate Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”) is putting our workers at risk.  Employers may not be best placed to make decisions between financial needs of the business, economic and social needs of the country with the obligation to protect the health and safety of their employers. 

Never before have we asked so much from so few

Leo Varadkar

The front-line workers from whom we are asking “so much” are already working in difficult environments.  They may be people who campaigned for five years for basic workers’ rights cumulating in the banning of “Zero Hour” contracts, they may be the people who are subjected to long term pay freezes in the public sector, and crucially, they may be the people whose contacts do not allow for any payment during a period of sick leave.   

As this crisis evolves, the risk to employees increases daily in line with the number of people infected. It is simply not good enough to say “nobody saw this coming” where front line workers including nurses, doctors, healthcare staff and shop assistants are paying the ultimate price with their health and future well-being. Some employers have adopted the relevant protection and emergency measures to protect their employees, others have not. 

We understand potentially claiming against your employer can be an unnerving prospect, so we aim to make the process as easy as possible for you, handling every aspect of your case and providing you with expert legal advice and support every step of the way.

If you have contracted Covid-19 in the workplace, our solicitors at HOMS Assist can help. Our team has over 50 years of experience.