The rapid spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) also poses challenges for employers. This guide aims to provide an overview of useful measures and legal implications for employers in Germany.

Provide Information

In order to counteract a spread of disease, it is advisable for employers to provide their employees with comprehensive information.

In addition to general information about the virus, this information should include the following points in particular:

  • Avoid crowds
  • Avoid contact with (sick) people
  • Ensure regular hand hygiene
  • Keep hands out of your face
  • Sneeze and cough into the crook of your arm
  • If you suspect that you may have been infected with Covid-19, stay at home and tell a doctor by phone

Cleaning of the working place

Regular basic cleaning is part of general work hygiene. However, this should not be exaggerated without good reason. During an acute driving situation, it may be advisable to clean door handles, keyboards etc. more frequently, if this is not done anyway.

Workers who have fallen ill

If an employee shows symptoms in the workplace, the employer should send him/her to the (works) doctor and consider releasing him/her from work until the symptoms are cleared up. This applies not only to Covid-19 infection, but also to other infectious diseases. Every infection puts colleagues at risk, so even mild symptoms should be clarified.

Continued payment of remuneration the event of official closure

If a company is closed down because of the coronavirus on the instructions of the authorities, the employer is in principle still obliged to pay wages – although staff cannot be employed for external reasons. The employer bears the operational risk in this case. In situations where neither the employee nor the employer is responsible, employment contracts and collective agreements may provide for deviating provisions. However, such provisions may be enforceable only if formulated sufficiently clearly and explicitly.

At the same time, the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs does not exclude the possibility of applying for short-time work compensation in such cases. This way a part of the remuneration would be paid by the employment agency. The main prerequisite for the payment of short-time work benefits is that an "unavoidable event" leads to considerable loss of work.

If possible and covered by the right to issue instructions, employers may also assign employees to work at other places. the case of the isolation of workers

If the employee is able to work in isolation (e.g., quarantine at home upon instruction of public authorities), he / she must do so. If not, the employer is still obliged to pay the wages for up to six weeks. The amounts paid out shall be reimbursed to the employer by the competent authority on request. the case of illness

If the employee is unable to work as a result of the illness, he / she is entitled to continued payment of remuneration.

However, a claim to continued remuneration is only possible if the employee is not at fault for the illness. Fault can be considered, for example, if the employee has violated a travel warning issued by the Foreign Office during a private trip. At the employer's request, the employee is obliged to provide a detailed description of the circumstances that are relevant to the development of the illness. If the employee violates these obligations to cooperate, the employer can hold back continued remuneration. In this context, the employer is entitled to ask employees returning from a private stay abroad whether they have stayed in a region at risk. The claim is regularly limited to negative information; the employee is not obliged to provide information about the exact whereabouts.

Business trips and secondments

It is advisable to avoid sending employees to unnecessary business trips or secondments to affected areas.

In the event of a travel warning by the Foreign Office, employees may under certain circumstances refuse to be posted to these areas.

Works Agreement

It is also possible to conclude a works agreement in which in particular preventive measures can be regulated.

Further meaningful regulation contents are among other things work duties in a pandemic case (also on contractually not owed work performances) and the order of home office and telework in such a case.

February 28 2020

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This Mayer Brown article provides information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest. The foregoing is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed herein.