As the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been confirmed in Britain and Northern Ireland, a HR expert has warned that it could wreak havoc for Irish workplaces over the coming weeks.
On Monday, Professor Kingston Mills, professor of experimental immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said the new more transmissible strain of the Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to be now circulating in the Republic Ireland.
Professor Mills said Omicron XE is a combination of the existing Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains.
Although the new strain of the virus is yet to be confirmed here, Damien McCarthy, of HR Buddy, has warned that Omicron XE could cause major problems for employers.
Mr McCarthy has called for employers to be given the ability to assess workers based on vaccination status.
“It remains the case that because employers do not have access to private medical information of their employees, they do not have access or are allowed access to employee’s vaccination status,” Mr McCarthy explained.
“Given that the new XE variant is more transmissible, there may be further pain for workplaces with regards to staff shortages due to covid related absenteeism.”
According to Mr McCarthy, the current isolation guidelines are unworkable for workplaces.
"Employers are fighting hard to keep their workplaces free of Covid," Mr McCarthy said.
"Absenteeism is having an overwhelming impact on many of the small businesses who were already facing staffing challenges.
"The fact that employers are running the same risk assessments for different employees, some who are vaccinated and some who are not, is quiet simply ridiculous and reckless.
"However, the employer’s hands remain tied under data protection law."
Mr McCarthy said business owners are growing increasingly stressed and anxious because they fear curbed trading or closure due to staff absences.
"Many businesses quite simply will not be able to open their doors to customers or provide services if Omicron XE takes off in the community," Mr McCarthy said.
"It would make sense if the Government introduced emergency legislation that would allow employers carry out risk assessments based on their employee’s vaccination status.
"This would help in making workplaces safe while preventing the spread of any current or future variants.
"The current risk assessments being carried out, despite the best of intentions, are quite frankly farcical.
"How can a risk assessment be carried out properly if you are not even aware as to whether the employees are vaccinated or not?”