This Sunday, March 8 2020 the Act on special solutions related to the prevention, counteracting and combating of COVID-19, other infectious diseases and emergencies caused by them (the " COVID-19 Act") entered into force. The Act dispels some doubts about the rights of employers related to the prevention of COVID-19 in the workplace, but a number of issues remain unregulated. Below we present answers to the most frequently appearing questions concerning the employers' rights and obligations related to COVID-19.
Special occupational health and safety measures
Does the employer have to take any special actions in the field of occupational health and safety in connection with COVID-19?
The newly adopted COVID-19 Act does not impose any new OHS obligations on employers other than those currently in force. Of course, we are talking about standard office work and not, for example, health care facilities.
Based on Article. 207 of the Labour Code the employer has a general obligation to protect the health and life of employees by ensuring safe and hygienic working conditions with appropriate use of the achievements of science and technology. In addition, the employer must adapt the measures taken to protect employees' life and health to the changing conditions of work performance.
So far in most workplaces, the risk of coronavirus infection is still rather not significant. Thus, from the legal point of view it seems sufficient that the employer undertakes actions recommended by WHO in relation to coronavirus, such as ensuring regular cleaning of telephone desks, keyboards and door handles by appropriate means, and providing employees with the possibility of regular washing hands with soap and water.
Remuneration during the quarantine
Does the employee who has been subject to mandatory home quarantine ordered by a sanitary inspection receive any remuneration?
The COVID-19 Act provides that healthy persons who have been in contact with persons suffering from infectious diseases are subject to mandatory quarantine or epidemiological supervision, if so agreed by the sanitary inspection authorities for a period not longer than 21 days from the date of contact.
Article 92 of the Labour Code and the Act on cash benefits from social insurance in the event of sickness and maternity treat the inability to work caused by isolation in connection with an infectious disease, and thus also quarantine, in the same manner as the inability to work due to illness. This means that during the first 33 days of absence of employees in quarantine the employee will be entitled to remuneration in the amount of 80% of the salary financed by the employer, and afterwards to the sickness allowance financed by the social security fund.
Ordering the remote work
Can the employer oblige the employees to work remotely?
Article 3 of the COVID-19 Act provides for the possibility of instructing an employee for a fixed period of time to work remotely to counteract COVID-19. The employee's consent to this mode of work is not required. This solution seems to be acceptable for both an individual employee as well as a group of employees or even the entire office.
Of course, not all work can be done remotely. Thus, the problem of employees who, due to the nature of work, cannot be obliged by the employer to work from home remains unsolved. If such employees are released from obligation to perform work due to coronavirus threat the employer might be obliged to pay out their remuneration as in the case of the shutdown.
Care allowance for the period of the closure of the nursery, kindergarten or school
Does an employee who is absent from work due to the closure of a nursery, kindergarten or school due to a coronavirus risk receive a salary?
Generally, in accordance with the Act on cash benefits from social insurance in the event of sickness and maternity an employee who is released from work due to the need to personally take care of a child up to the age of 8 years, in the event of unforeseen closure of the nursery, kindergarten or school to which the child attends, is entitled to care allowance paid by social security fund. The total period of receiving this benefit is 60 days in a calendar year.
The COVID-19 Act provides for additional care allowance for a period of no more than 14 days if a nursery, kindergarten or school closes because of COVID-19. The period of receiving this allowance is not included in the abovementioned 60-day period of receiving care allowance.
The above solution, however, applies only to parents of children under 8 years old. Parents of older children are not entitled to any special allowances due to closure of school.
Can the employer test the temperature of employees?
This issue has not been regulated in the COVID-19 Act. Before the coronavirus crisis, permissibility of this type of testing was often questioned. However, in our opinion, given the extraordinary circumstances connected with coronavirus spread in Europe, and the employer's obligation to ensure safe and hygienic working conditions, such mesures can be considered justified, especially in relation to employees showing symptoms of the disease. Of course, a lot will depend on how the measurements are made, how invasive they are seriousness of the epidemiological situation in the area.
Co Author by: Julia Walicka-Ostachowska
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.