After a State of Alert was decreed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Venezuelan government issued another decree on March 23, 2020 to confirm that employees are entitled to job stability, known as inamovilidad, during the COVID-19 pandemic (hereinafter "the job stability decree"). The inamovilidad will last through December 31, 2020.
Under the State of Alert decree, to help prevent spread of the infection, all employment relationships were suspended until May 13, 2020, so employees cannot render services at the workplace. During this period, employers have no obligation to pay salaries.1
The job stability decree confirms there is a general prohibition against dismissal for certain categories of employees during the inamovilidad. This means employees protected by inamovilidad cannot be dismissed without just cause and prior authorization from the Labor Inspector Office. In case of dismissal, the employee is entitled to request reinstatement and back pay. The reinstatement request must be presented within 30 days of dismissal.
This protection applies to all public and private employees who were: (i) hired for an indefinite term; the protection applies from the first month of working; (ii) hired for a fixed-term; protection applies as long as the term remains in force; or (iii) hired to perform a specific duty or activity; protection applies as long as the duty or the work had not ended. Upper-management employees, seasonal employees, and employees with less than one month of service are excluded from this job stability protection.
Generally, employers cannot justify a dismissal or layoff process by arguing the COVID-19 emergency resulted in the closure or cessation of the economic activities.
Failure to comply with these work protection standards could subject employers to fines and even prison.
Labor Inspector offices are partially opened to receive claims stemming from recent dismissal or layoff processes. In practice, those claims will always result in an order of reinstatement. Employers may request an appeal before the Labor Courts, but the processes will run only when a reinstatement certificate is on file.
During the COVID-19 emergency, it is advisable to stop any layoff or downsizing process. Instead, employers may suspend all employment contracts. During this time, employers should only grant employees the meal benefit and the housing benefit if there is an obligation to do so and to pay the social security contributions. The period of suspension will not affect an employee's seniority.
1 Companies excepted are those that render essential services or may render them remotely. Employees of essential businesses should be present in the workplace or telework from home. In these cases, the companies should continue granting wages and benefits.
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.