The first tentative steps towards normality have been taken in Northern Ireland. Like other devolved areas the Executive has chosen to move out of step with England and Wales and refused to follow the lead and messages issued by the Prime Minister. 

The delayed response from the executive came in the form of a framework document for reopening which was without any timescale. It followed a risk based approach rather than a date based approach.  

The Pathway to Recovery document published by the Northern Ireland Executive yesterday provides a general, high-level, framework for both the social and economic re-opening of Northern Ireland. Unlike the roadmaps in the Republic of Ireland and England, dates or anticipated timeframes do not feature in Northern Ireland’s five step plan. 

The relaxation of the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister for England do not apply in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains in the #stayhome lockdown phase and will do so until such time as the Executive is content that easing the restrictions can be done without high risk of a further spread of the virus. This leaves the situation for businesses especially those operating across the UK or on an all Ireland basis in an even more problematic position. 

Many businesses have closed either by direction or necessity while others have remained open and have taken steps to put health and safety measures in place to enable safe working to continue. In the charity and community sector it is even more difficult as many have seen a rise in demand for services at a time when funding from the Executive and from Councils has dried up.

For the time being the default position for many is work from home if at all possible. If this is not possible, and if you are not in one of the sectors that has been directed to close, then go to work if there are adequate health and safety measures in place within the workplace, including the social distancing requirements, and you are able to do so.

Many of our clients have already started the process of thinking about a return to work.  If you have not have not already started this process now is the time to do so. If you don’t have a trade union or employee representative forum you might want to put a forum in place and to form a project group focussing on how best to implement safety measures in your place of work. Of course the starting point will be undertaking a risk assessment to assess the risk factors and then consider what steps can be taken to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus in your workplace. Taking these steps and sharing with your staff what you are doing will help build confidence within your workforce that, when the time is right, they will be safe to return to the workplace



Although the Executive has not provided a definitive timeline for the getting back to ‘the new normal’, you can start to take steps to ensure that your business is ready to open when you are able to do so. Take this time to plan. Consider what operational changes you might need to introduce. How can you implement these changes? Take this time to consider the financial impact of covid-19 on your business. Objectively question whether or not your existing operations will be able to continue in its current size and shape. If not, consider what your options are and seek advice if you are unsure.

Being in business or running a front facing community organisation or charity in Northern Ireland presents a range of challenges for everyone. Everyone is in this together. Today’s world requires consideration of a number of legal issues from employment law to data privacy to health & safety for tomorrow’s workplaces. 

This is why we will be preparing and sharing a four part series of briefings and webinars with clients and contacts. The series has been put in place to help guide employers as they prepare to address the challenges ahead. The programme is as follows

  1. Getting Back to work safely – A guide to re-opening Workplaces
  1. Developing digital – how to make the most of virtual working
  1. The New Normal – planning for the changes which will continue
  1. Survival of the Fittest -dealing with the long term effects of the pandemic

These will posted on our website on a weekly basis. If you would like any further information about the programme or the information above please contact us.