The Government’s advice surrounding non-essential foreign travel changed on 19 July 2021. While staycations are more common than ever before, foreign holidays are back on the agenda. The new advice is to travel safely and in accordance with the latest public health guidance. As restrictions ease and with some businesses starting to plan a staggered return to the workplace, it will be challenging for employers to navigate employees returning from holidays abroad this summer. This is made more difficult as the requirements upon returning to Ireland are constantly changing. Also, employers are faced with the question of what, if any, information they can request from employees regarding their COVID-19 vaccination status.
The recent guidance from the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) states that there is no legal basis for employers to process vaccination data, except for in very limited circumstances such as in the context of frontline healthcare services. It acknowledges that situations may arise where employers need to be made aware of when an employee will be available for work after travelling to Ireland from abroad and completing any required periods of self-isolation or quarantine. However, while it may be necessary for employers to collect and record information regarding any quarantine period employees are required to complete, the DPC guidance explicitly provides, that “it should not be strictly necessary for employees’ vaccination status to be recorded in such instances”.
While the travel rules appear complicated at first glance, they are split between EU travel and non-EU travel. Many of the previous travel restrictions have been removed.
The current position in Ireland
What are the current rules in place for individuals returning to Ireland from abroad and what do employers need to consider if they have employees returning to the workplace?
Passengers returning from countries inside the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, must have either:
Proof of vaccination
Proof of recovery from COVID-19 in the last 180 days, or
A negative RT-PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival into Ireland
This can be proven by way of the EU Digital COVID Certificate.
Passengers arriving into Ireland from the EU and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland with the EU Digital COVID Certificate do not need to quarantine since 19 July 2021.
For passengers arriving into Ireland from outside of the EU and Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, it will depend on whether the country from which the passenger is travelling is a “designated” State or not. It is important to note that this includes those arriving from Great Britain.
Arriving to Ireland from a country which is not a designated State:
If passengers have a valid proof of vaccination or valid proof of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 180 days, then no travel-related testing or quarantine will be necessary.
If passengers do not have valid proof of vaccination or recovery, they will be required to:
Present evidence of a negative result from a RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival into the country
Self-quarantine for 14 days, and
Once they receive a negative result from a RT-PCR test taken from day 5 onwards after arrival into Ireland, they can leave quarantine
Arriving to Ireland from a country which is a designated State:
If passengers have a valid proof of vaccination or proof of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 180 days, they will be required to:
Present evidence of a negative result from a RT-PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival
Undergo self-quarantine, and
Once they receive a negative result from a RT-PCR test taken from day 5 onwards after arrival into Ireland, they will be able to leave quarantine
If passengers do not have valid proof of vaccination or recovery, they will need to:
Present evidence of a negative RT-PCR test result taken in the previous 72 hours before arrival
Undergo mandatory hotel quarantine, and
Once they receive a negative result from a RT-PCR test taken from day 10 onwards after arrival into Ireland, they will be able to leave quarantine
Passengers without valid proof of vaccination or recovery also must undergo mandatory hotel quarantine if they transited through a designated country in the 14 days before their arrival, even if they did not leave the port or airport.
At the time of writing, there are approximately 30 designated States – mostly in Asia, Africa, South America and Russia.
On return from foreign travel, an employer can ask an employee to confirm that he/she has complied with his/her obligations in relation to travel and quarantine requirements. If an employee is required to quarantine upon return to Ireland and is unable to perform their role remotely, the quarantine period may have to be covered by annual leave. Employees should be informed of this prior to their departure. If this is not possible, the employer may have reasonable grounds to take disciplinary action as the employee is unavailable to perform their duties. If an employee can work remotely for the period of quarantine, there should be no reason for disciplinary action.
Employees and employers will have to continue to work together to find mutually agreeable solutions to these unprecedented issues.
For more information, contact a member of our Employment & Benefits team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.