Upon receiving multiple enquiries from our clients and other interested parties relating to rights and obligations of both employers and employees in Cyprus, in light of the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, we set forth below the current position as at the time of writing (14th March 2020) on the legal aspects of some of the most common questions:
What are my obligations as an Employer towards my Employees?
By Law, the Employer has obligation to provide a safe environment for work. This obligation is ongoing and is subject to constant review by the Employer. The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 would fall within the definition of a hazardous or unsafe work environment, and as such the Employer has to take appropriate steps to ensure that the health and safety at work are maintained. Such steps invariably have to be considered in light of the type of business activities, number of employees, number of internal/external meetings and other external business obligations and there is no "universal approach" which would fit all businesses at this time. Some examples of required steps at this time would be the provisions of antiseptic material, cleaning materials and disinfectants, and exploring and implementing steps which would limit social interaction, such as working from home, rotation basis systems, use of teleconferences and other technical and technological means of operating.
What can the Employer do if they believe an Employee might be a COVID-19 carrier?
As per above, the Employer has an obligation to provide to his Employees with a safe and healthy environment within which they will work. In this instance, and also in light of the World Health Organisation having declared COVID-19 as Pandemic, we would be of the opinion that an Employer can validly and legally deny access and entry to the work space to any such Employee, in order to protect the rest of the employees.
This should also be read in line with the fact that the Health Ministry in Cyprus is also issuing various Travel Guidelines under which it defines which persons should be under mandatory isolation and who should be under voluntary isolation and self-regulate.
In cases where employees need to be under mandatory isolation, but they are still in a position to work health-wise, then, if possible, by the Employer's systems, the employee may work from home. Where such capabilities are not available, the question which arises is whether the employee is allowed to salary payment for the
time period in which he/she is under mandatory isolation. Currently, in light of the fact that his/her absence is not due to the Employer's actions, then the Employer is not obligated to pay salary during the absence period (however, if the mandatory isolation is for example after a business trip under the instructions of the Employer, this position would change).
In the event that the mandatory isolation or quarantine and absence of the Employee from work is a result of or under the directions of the Cypriot Authorities, provided that the Employee will obtain a relevant certificate from the Ministry of Health, then this shall be considered as Sick Leave, payable by the relevant Social Insurance funds upon successful application. This follows the decision of the Council of Ministers on the 28th February 2020.
What are the obligations of the Employer if they find out that an Employee was infected?
In light of the fact that the Employer is has an obligation to provide to his Employees with a safe and healthy environment within which they will work, he will need to immediately take such steps and actions are required to ensure that no other employees are infected or to limit such infection.
At the same time, the Employer needs to take under consideration his obligation to maintain the secrecy of personal data and health data of its Employees; however, this is limited to the extend that the Employer will maintain such secrecy to the extend required, in order to safeguard the health and safety of other employees. The Employer will still need to ensure that any information notified to 3rd parties relating to the COVID-19 virus are still following the GDPR rules applicable in Cyprus and should not be widely disseminated to 3rd parties; they should only be notified to the extend required validly in order to protect other employees, for example, to notify such other employees who came into contact with the verified carrier of the virus to also go get checked.
What is the position of Parents who need to remain home due to the school closures ordered by the Government?
After the Government ordering all private and public schools, of all levels, to remain closed, a large number of employees have been forced to take annual leave to remain at home with their children. At this time, applicable laws in Cyprus do not offer any regulation for such matters, however, the Government has repeatedly stated that they are working on further measures specifically on this matter, which will be announced in due time. Until such time, it remains solely on the understanding between Employer and Employee. The current options are the use of Annual Leave, use of Unpaid Leave, or another understanding between the parties (working from home, part-time work with the understanding of a lower salary or making up for the lost time gradually once things return back to normal, etc).
What are the Employee's obligations relating to the COVID-19 outbreak?
The Employee is required to keep working normally, under the terms of his/her employment contract, subject to any other orders or guidelines which have or will be issued by the appropriate Authorities.
Under current position, the Employee would be required to report to his/her Employer any matters which would possibly affect the health and safety of the work environment. As such, an Employee would have to report to the Employer any recent travels undertaken, contacts with confirmed virus carriers, contacts with persons who have recently returned from designated countries, and so forth, so as to enable the Employer to make informed decisions. The Employee would also be required to reply to enquiries as to these matters if these are raised by the Employer.
Any information given by the Employee to the Employer would still need to be used and treated under the confidentiality principles of GDPR regulations.
Originally published 15 March 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.