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Essential service providers under new public health guidelines

Thursday, April 2, 2020

In the newest phase of Ireland’s response to COVID-19, the Government have introduced further restrictions on the movement of people. Only in very limited circumstances are people permitted to leave their homes.

Of importance to employers is the announcement that only those performing essential services can travel to and from, and for the purposes of, work.

The Guidelines

These restrictions have been implemented for a period of 2 weeks from 28 March to 12 April. However, this period will be extended if necessary (and it appears highly likely that the period will be extended).

Where possible, all employees should be working remotely from home. However, the government have listed 16 categories of ‘essential services’ in which employees performing these services will be permitted to travel to work if they cannot work remotely.

What is an ‘essential service’?

To date there are 16 categories of ‘essential services’ – although the Government have already indicated this list will be constantly reviewed and updated.

To be an essential service, the business must fall within one of the following categories listed here.

Who decides if a business is an ‘essential service’?

It is employers themselves who decide if their business is an ‘essential service’ within the categories. There is no official authorisation process.

What do I do if my business is classified as an ‘essential service’?

As an employer you must identify those employees (including subcontractors) who are essential to the provision of the service. This may be:-

(a) all employees;
(b) a category of employees; or
(c) individuals.

You must then notify those employees that they are ‘essential’ to the provision of the service.

An employer should inform their employees that they will need to carry a form of work identification or a letter from their employer at all times confirming their status. This letter should include contact details of the employer who can verify the employee as essential if needed.

The Government have also stated that essential services should have business continuity and resilience plans in place. Employers should be conscious that key facilities and key workers could be impacted by COVID-19.

What does this mean for the workplace?

Only essential employees will be permitted to travel to and from, and for the purposes of, work and therefore only essential employees should be present in the place of work.

Employers must ensure that the latest public health guidelines, including social distancing measures, have been adhered to for those employees who cannot work remotely.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace the HSE have said employers should:

  • Ensure constant workplace sanitation, such as the regular cleaning of surfaces and objects;
  • Promote respiratory hygiene e.g. coughing into the elbow/washing hands after sneezing;
  • Advise employees to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth;
  • Avoid close contact and hand shaking;
  • Provide employees with up to date national public health advice from the HSE/Department of Health;
  • Avoid exposure to respiratory secretion; and
  • Ensure the constant adherence to these precautions by all employees.

As an employer has an obligation to employees to provide a safe place of work under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, employers should remain informed on the latest health guidelines and implement them in the workplace.

What if my business is not an essential service?
Those working in non-essential services are no longer permitted to travel to work.

There was a period of grace granted until 6pm on Monday 30th March for non-essential services to make any arrangements to wind-down their business.

However, the government have recognised in limited circumstances there may be a need for additional time to wind down activity or a site may need to continue to work at a reduced level for example in large construction projects or complex manufacturing processes.


For further information on this article, please contact Patrick Walshe.

Article written with the assistance of Emily Reid.


Patrick Walshe