Home Knowledge COVID-19: New Emergency Legislation Allows Travel to and from Work for “Essential Services” Only

COVID-19: New Emergency Legislation Allows Travel to and from Work for "Essential Services" Only

Essential Services and New Restrictions

On 27 March 2020, pursuant to the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the public interest) Act 2020, the Government imposed further restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19.  

Effective Saturday 28 March, everybody in Ireland is required to stay at home except in specific limited circumstances. Such circumstances include “travel to and from work, or for purposes of work, only where the work is an essential health, social care or other essential service and cannot be done from home”. These new restrictions will remain in force until 12 April but may well be extended beyond that. 

Prior to the introduction of the latest restrictions on 27 March, many businesses had voluntarily moved staff to remote working, and the general public had been ordered to practise social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures.  However, the Government decided that more was needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 and so, with effect from 28 March, those not engaged in “essential services” are not permitted to travel to work. 

“Essential service providers” are effectively those participating in services that are combatting COVID-19 as well as those services that are keeping the country operational during the COVID-19 pandemic. A full list of these services is provided here together with Government guidance. To the maximum extent possible, the Government requires that these services should be carried out remotely, but accepts that this will not always be possible. 

Notably for companies in supply chains, as well as multinationals, the following clarification forms part of the Government’s guidance:  

“If you carry out an activity that is necessary for the continued provision of an essential service by another organisation or you are part of an essential supply chain, you should continue to carry out that activity. To the maximum extent possible, that should be done remotely.   The government also recognises that many companies in Ireland are critical to global supply chains that are responding to the COVID-19 crisis, and many companies also perform critical global roles in other aspects of medicine, as well as security, cyber, cloud and data centre infrastructure. It is intended that these essential global roles are encompassed within this national guidance.”

Businesses should review whether they are “essential service providers” and whether it is possible for their employees to work remotely.  In many instances it is obvious which activities fall within the definition of “essential service”. However, the Government has recognised that this may not always be clear.  There is an expectation that a limited amount of leeway will be given due to this ambiguity.

Grace Period 

A limited grace period until 6pm, 30 March was allowed for non-essential businesses to make the necessary arrangements to “wind down”. The Government also notes that “In exceptional circumstances, it is accepted that some extra time will be needed for a wind down of activity, or necessary for a site to continue to operate at a reduced level of activity, for example in complex manufacturing processes or very large construction projects.” 

If you are an essential service provider – what are you required to do? 

Employers who believe their business falls within one of the “essential services” exemptions should identify which employees are essential to the provision of that service. Where it is not possible for these employees to work remotely, they should be informed accordingly and provided with a short letter that the employee should bring with him/her when travelling to and from work.  This letter should include details as to which essential service the business falls under and a brief description of the essential work that that employee must carry out on site. The employee should also bring photo ID. 

The employees in question should be advised to follow Government advice when travelling to and from work; i.e. travel directly there and back; wash/sanitise hands frequently; exercise social distancing in the workplace and when travelling (if possible). 

Businesses should review their business continuity arrangements to ensure compliance with the Government’s requirement for business continuity and resilience plans of essential service providers to take account of key workers who may be impacted by COVID-19. 

For further information on the above and how it will impact your business, please contact a member of our COVID-19 Dedicated Group, or your usual William Fry contact. 

We will continue to keep you abreast of all developments via our dedicated COVID-19 Hub.

Contributed by Therese Chambers