Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Workers will have to honour their contracts if an employer asks them to return to the office later this month, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar said he did not think it was “reasonable” that people would be exempt from returning to the workplace because they did not feel comfortable amid the pandemic.

He added that anyone uncomfortable with returning will have little option legally.

Workers are due to return to offices on a phased basis from September 20th under the Government’s new roadmap out of Covid-19 restrictions, unveiled on Tuesday evening.

Tens of thousands of people have been working from home throughout the pandemic.

I don’t think it’d be reasonable now, to say to people… that somehow you don’t have to go back to work because you don’t feel comfortable

“There have been lots of people who have been going into work every day – bus drivers, people working in retail, people working healthcare, gardaí,” Mr Varadkar said.

“They’ve never been able to say that I don’t feel comfortable, and I don’t think it’d be reasonable now, to say to people who have been working from home that somehow you don’t have to go back to work because you don’t feel comfortable, I don’t think that would be reasonable or respectful to all those people.

“So the position is, is that if you’ve signed an employment contract, you’ve to honour it.”

As the Government confirmed the date for office returns, Mr Varadkar said he expected people to embrace “blended working”, dividing their time between home and the workplace.

He has previously said that Ireland has a new opportunity to make remote working a major part of working life, with the Government to pass a law that provides employees with a right to request remote working arrangements.

At present, all employees can ask their employer for the right to work remotely, but there is no legal framework to manage that process.

Reopening plan

On Tuesday evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Ireland “kept its head as a country” as he unveiled plans to ease the majority of remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

Under the plan, entitled Covid-19: Reframing The Challenge, Continuing Our Recovery And Reconnecting, the majority of restrictions will be lifted and replaced by guidance.

From September 1st

  • Public transport will return to full capacity from today. All National Transport Authority bus, trams and trains will return to full capacity, and seating will no longer be blocked off.

From September 6th

  • Restrictions on organised indoor and outdoor events and mass gatherings will ease. Theatre, music and live events can take place for vaccinated people at 60 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.
  • Religious services will be allowed to proceed at up to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Live music at weddings and pubs will return.

From September 20th

  • Workers will return to offices on a phased basis.
  • Restrictions on indoor and outdoor group activities will ease, including sports, arts, culture, and dance classes.

From October 22nd

  • Requirements for physical distancing will end.
  • Legal requirements for mask wearing outdoors and in indoor private settings will end.
  • Legal requirements to prove immunity in order to access indoor hospitality or other events will end.
  • Remaining restrictions on indoor and outdoor events and activities, along with those on religious or civil ceremonies, will lift.
  • Limits on numbers that can meet in private homes and gardens will lift.
  • Nightclubs will be permitted to reopen.

Mr Martin told the nation that a statutory requirement to wear masks in healthcare settings, indoor retail and on public transport will remain after October 22nd.

He added: “We are very unlikely to ever be able to be rid of the virus completely.

“Indeed, we expect to see an increase in case numbers over the coming weeks.

“But the combined strategy of careful reopening and energetic vaccination has brought us to a point where we can begin to do things differently.”

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