New data shows COVID health and safety breaches in Irish workplaces saw a 77% jump in just three months, (ending September 30th) from 53 to 94, says employment law firm GQ|Littler.
The retail sector accounts for 83% of all COVID health and safety breaches identified by Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission in the past three months, a total of 78.
According to GQ|Littler, Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission has carried out 2,635 inspections in the first nine months of 2021*. Businesses that have not taken adequate measures to ensure social distancing, provide PPE and ensure proper ventilation may be found in breach of COVID work safety protocol.
The recent spread of the Omicron variant has led to increased concerns over COVID related safety measures. As result of the outbreak, investigations by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) may rise again.
Since inspections began in 2020, there have been 6310 inspections in the retail industry sector alone, amounting to 81% of all inspections to date.
GQ|Littler says employers that are found to be in breach of COVID requirements could face on the spot fines of up to €3,000 but could theoretically rise to €3m in a criminal case as a breach of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act
Niall Pelly, Partner of GQ|Littler, adds that the legislation in this area is not easy for many small businesses to follow. This is because COVID-response emergency measures have been frequently amended and time-limited, meaning they lapse after a certain period unless updated.
Many of the measures the public have been directed to comply with are not underpinned by legislation. Therefore, Government directions constitute guidance rather than enforceable law, with breaches of COVID requirements met with a direction to comply rather than a fine.
Aside from being fined, GQ|Littler says the reputational damage of breaching COVID requirements could have a negative impact on revenue for businesses, as well as make it more difficult for them to hire and retain employees.
Niall Pelly adds: “The recent increase in Covid safety breaches identified by the WRC is alarming. The WRC does seem to be focusing on retailers so employers in that sector should be aware of that."
“Employers need to be vigilant to ensure protocols are adhered to. Concern over Omicron is inevitably going to lead to more compliance checks and more businesses being found in breach of the rules.”
*Source: Workplace Relations Commission, June 30th and September 30th
Breaches of COVID safety protocol by industry during Q3, (ending September 30th 2021)
GQ|Littler is a leading specialist law firm for employers in the UK and Ireland. Offering risk-based contentious and non-contentious advice, our legal service includes employment, immigration, data privacy and employee tax and incentives. Our client base spans a wide range of sectors including financial services, technology, healthcare, professional services and luxury goods, in the UK and internationally. GQ|Littler is recognised as a leader in its field by both Chambers & Partners and Legal 500, which describes the firm as an “excellent team with strength and depth in every aspect.” For more information, visit www.gqlittler.com.