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Europe: Emergency Measures in the Field of Employment during COVID-19
Most countries in Europe have adopted extensive measures relating to employment to deal with this emergency situation relating to COVID -19.
An employee who is quarantined and unable to work from home should receive compensation from the employer in accordance with the provisions of the Protection against Infection Act. If a quarantine lasts longer than six weeks, compensation equivalent to the regular sick pay from the statutory health insurance would generally be paid from the seventh week onward.
A loss of working hours due to coronavirus and/or the associated safety measures may result in a claim for compensation for reduced hours or reduced productivity (Kurzarbeitergeld– short term work allowances) from the government. Retroactively, beginning March 2020, these grants are easier available for companies that want to realize substantial salary savings by sending their employees home on a temporary basis.
Employee leave due to COVID-19 processed as occupational accident
The Royal Decree-Law 6/2020, adopts certain urgent economic measures for the protection of public health entered into force on March 12, 2020. According to the Fifth Article of the Royal Decree, coronavirus casualties will be equated with occupational accidents for the purposes of collecting social security benefits.
As of March 11, 2020 employers can process the sick leave of workers infected with coronavirus as cases of temporary disability due to an accident at work. The equivalence is made only for the purposes of collecting Social Security benefits resulting from the leave. Isolation or contagion of the workers due to COVID-19 does not mean that it is an occupational accident per se.
Remote work has been established as a priority measure against the temporary cessation or reduction of activity, in those companies where it is technically and reasonably possible and if the necessary adaptation effort is proportionate.
Reduction of the working day
The Royal Decree-Law 8/2020, of March 17, on extraordinary urgent measures to face the economic and social impact of COVID-19 states that employees who prove care duties with respect to the spouse or domestic partner, as well as with respect to family members will have the right to access the reduction of the workday, when there are exceptional circumstances related to the actions necessary to avoid community transmission of COVID-19. It may consist of shift change, schedule alteration, flexible work arrangement, split or continuous shift, change of workplace, change of duties or any other change of conditions that is available in the company.
As a result of the severe Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) outbreak in Italy, the Government issued Law Decree No. 18 of 17 March 2020 (“Cura Italia Decree”), which became effective on March 17, 2020
The obligation to preserve the employees’ health against COVID-19 infection falls within the general obligation of employers to preserve and protect health and safety at work.
- The employer has to take all actions to allow smart working in all cases where this is possible,
- In all cases where smart working is not possible, accrued holidays and/or leave can be spent.
The special parental leave to face the COVID-19 emergency may be granted to employees of the private sector (even if they have already crossed the thresholds set by the legislation for the use of the ordinary parental leave by one or both the parents). This special leave has a maximum duration of 15 days, to be used both on a continuous or non-continuous basis. However, in the latter case, the leave may be used on a daily basis only, not on an hourly one.
Increase of the Paid Leaves under Sect. 33, Para. 3, of Law No. 104/1992
There is an increase in paid leave for those employees caring for persons with serious disabilities as envisaged by Section 33 of Law no. 104/1992, which is to be used during the months of March and April 2020. This means that these additional 12 days will be added to the 6 days of paid leave (3 for the month of March and 3 for the month of April) already contemplated by Law no. 104/1992. Such an additional 12 days of paid leave may be used on an hourly basis and also on a continuous basis within the same month.
In anticipation of a potential economic slowdown resulting from the lockdown announced by the French government on March 16, 2020, the French Parliament approved an emergency law on March 22, 2020, called the “Emergency Bill to Combat the COVID-19 Crisis”
As per the Labor Code, the current minimum paid annual leave (after one year of employment) is five weeks. This duration may be increased by the applicable collective bargaining agreement.
Employees with a COVID-19 infection that has been confirmed by a doctor can receive the conventional sick leave benefits, plus a social security allowance. If an employee is quarantined, they are entitled to up to 20 days of benefits from social security. Infected employees are indemnified under regular sick leave ( which will depend on any applicable collective bargaining agreement and the employee’s length of service).
If an employee has to stay at home to care for a child under 16 years old, they may benefit from a specific medical/work leave option.
As of 16 March 2020, new and stricter rules have been imposed by the Dutch government in order to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. The government’s measures will apply until 6 April 2020.
The employer can obtain permission from the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs to introduce a temporary working time reduction for salaried employees. The conditions for approval are as follows:
- At least 20% of the work capacity is decreased during a period of at least two weeks as a direct result of “extraordinary circumstances” that are not part of the employer’s normal business risk. The Dutch government has already identified COVID-19 as such an extraordinary circumstance.
- If permission is granted, the employer could unilaterally shorten the weekly working hours of employees for an initial maximum period of six weeks. The consent of the employees is not needed. This period can be extended for additional six-week periods, up to three times.
- While the permission is in effect, employees are still entitled to their regular salary payment despite the reduced working time (i.e., continued payment for hours not worked). However, after the lapse of the permission, the employer is reimbursed by the Dutch Labour Office (UWV) for hours not worked, subject to the maximum daily wage of € 219.28 gross per day (January 2020), resulting in savings of wage costs.
If an employee has been diagnosed with or is suspected to have contracted the virus, then the employer will have reasonable grounds to request them to stay at home. Employees will be entitled to paid sick leave as per contractual terms or, in absence of a contract, as per the law.
In accordance with the Dutch Civil Code, if a temporary or permanent employment contract is in effect and a worker becomes ill, up to two years of paid sick leave is provided at a minimum of 70 percent of the wages the employee last earned.
Working from home can be imposed as a preventive measure for employees whose nature of work allows it.
In response to COVID-19, the Luxembourg Government has exceptionally authorized employees to take extraordinary family leave to care for minor children due to the closure of educational facilities.
The leave can be taken regardless of whether or not the child is quarantined. Employees should follow the below procedure for taking time off:
- The employee must inform his employer as soon as possible of the taking of leave for family reasons, indicating the beginning and end of the leave and the days (or half-days) he will take;
- The employee must fill and sign the specific form (the start and end dates of the leave do not need to be indicated on the form);
- The forms must be sent to the employer and to the “Caisse Nationale de Santé” (hereinafter the “CNS”
The employee can interrupt and split the leave as necessary.
Short-time work is a possible option to cope with a decline in activity that prevents the employer from employing its employees on a full-time basis. Short-time working can be requested by any company in difficulty, if its activity is significantly reduced (including up to total interruption of activity), due to the coronavirus.
The new legislation enacted in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis (“Crisis Act“), allows employers to order any employee employed to perform his/her work determined in the employment contract remotely. The regulations concerning the assignment of remote work will remain in force for 180 days from the effective day of the Crisis Act, i.e., from 8 March 2020.
- In case employees are quarantined in accordance with the Crisis Act the employees are entitled to sickness allowance;
- If an employee is infected, the employer will pay sick leave for up to 33 days within the calendar year. Once this period is exhausted, the sickness benefit will be paid by the Social Security Institution accordingly.
- During the first 33 days in the calendar year (14 days in case of employees above 50) of an absence of employees because of illness or quarantine the employees will be entitled to remuneration in the amount of 80% of the salary financed by the employer, and afterward to the sickness allowance financed by the social security fund;
- If the quarantined employee provides services by way of home office standard remuneration must be paid, and there is no entitlement to sickness allowance.
On 11 March 2020, the Slovak Republic declared an “extraordinary situation” in the territory of the Slovak Republic, with the effective date as of 12 March 2020. Employers are required to follow best practice guidance in this situation, such as:
- If the employer agreed with the employee on remote working, they are entitled to full wages or salary for that period.
- Where an employee is in mandatory quarantine or has been positively tested for coronavirus, they are entitled to standard sick pay. Such payment is provided by the employer (i) for the first three days not worked in the amount of 25% of their daily assessment base; (ii) from day four to day 10 in the amount of 55% of their daily assessment base. Should the incapability for work exceed 10 days, Social Security will pay from day 11 until week 52 at 55% of their daily assessment base.
- In a situation where an employee stays at home to take care of his or her child because the school attended by the child has been closed by the decision of the competent authorities in connection with COVID-19, the employer is obliged to excuse the absence of the employee from work. Special care leave may be granted for up to 14 days starting from the date the school or kindergarten has been closed. The period of 14 days is considered the maximum duration. The employee is entitled to leave allowance amounting to 80% of his/her remuneration, paid by Social Security.
- The employer can order the collective taking of vacation leave for a maximum of two weeks upon agreement with the employee representatives if serious operational reasons occur.
- The employer and the employee can also agree on the taking of compensatory time off for overtime work or work performed during a public holiday or weekend.
- The employer may ask employees to take days off (unpaid), but only if the employee agrees.
- In view of the current situation, the critical effects of spreading COVID 19 virus, require the implementation of several measures, in order to minimize the economic impact.
Conducting the activity remotely when fulfilling the specific duties of the position or occupation of the employee implies the use of information and communication technology.
- Starting 17 March 2020, an employee who is a parent can apply for leave for the supervision of the children, in the situation of a temporary closure of the educational units where they are enrolled. In order to qualify for the leave, the parents must have children up to 12 years or have children with disabilities up to 18 years (enrolled in an educational unit) if the employer does not allow work from home or remote. Parents who are in the above situation have the right to paid leave during the entire period of suspension of the educational units. The law stipulates that the allowance for each day off is 75% of the salary of a working day (we refer to the salary of the parent requesting the leave), but no more than the correspondent per day of 75% of the average gross wage in the country.
- If the competent authorities impose a quarantine, the employees will be on special leave. The leave and the allowance for the quarantine are granted to the insured persons who are prohibited from continuing the activity due to a contagious disease, during the period established by the certificate issued by the public health department. During this period the employees have the right to a medical leave allowance of 75% from a salary base that represents the average of the gross monthly income.
- The duration of the quarantine leave does not decrease from the number of days of medical leave.
The Czech Republic
Named as the Anti Virus relief plan, the Czech government put in place a system of state aid designed to safeguard the employment and business environment in the country
- The employer may ask employees to work from home (home office).
- If the public health authorities order a specific employee into quarantine, for which the employee is entitled to wage compensation similar to temporary work incapacity. This means that the employee is entitled to paid sick leave from the employer during the first 14 calendar days; from the fifteenth day onwards he/she is entitled to the sickness benefits provided by the Czech Social Security Administration.
- Employees ordered into quarantined are only entitled to compensation in the amount of 60 percent of their average income. This will be fully reimbursed to the employer.
- Employers, whose business have been closed down under an extraordinary order of the government, must continue to pay their employees in full. The state will provide a contribution in the amount of 80 percent of such payments to the employer.
- The employer may ask employees to take days off (unpaid), but only if the employee agrees to that.
- From midnight on Friday 27 March, employees are required to stay at home until 12 April 2020 with some exceptions. If the employees work in essential health, social care or other essential services and cannot work from home, they can work and travel to work. In all other situations, employees must work from home.
- If an employee is sick with coronavirus, they may be entitled to sick pay from their employer. If the employer does not pay, employees can apply for enhanced Illness Benefit from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
- If the employee is not sick, but he cannot go to work because they have to care for a sick child or other relatives, the employee can ask for paid leave. If the employer cannot give paid leave, an employee can apply for statutory leave. The following options are available to employees:
- Altering shifts, so that an employee can coordinate caring between himself and their partner, or another person.
- Offering paid compassionate leave.
- Allowing an employee to rearrange holidays.
- Letting employees take paid time off that the employee can work back at a later time.
If none of the options above is available, and the employee cannot arrange for paid leave from his employer, they can apply for one of the statutory schemes below.
- Force majeure leave (i.e paid leave)- Employee is entitled to take 3 days force majeure leave in a 12-month period or 5 days in a 36 month period.
- Parental leave or Parent’s leave – Employees are required to give their employer 6 weeks’ notice if they want to take parental or parent’s leave. And this notice period can be waived considering the emergency of the circumstances.
Under the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Bill, employees will not be able to claim redundancy during the emergency period if they were laid off or put on short-time work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency period set out in the legislation is 13 March 2020 to 31 May 2020. This period may be extended.
Employees who are on sick leave are entitled to sick pay or state sickness benefit and employees who are quarantined are generally also entitled to full salary during the quarantine. The general sickness benefit rules state that employers have an obligation to either pay salaries during illness or pay sickness benefits during the first 30 sick leave days (the employer period). At the end of this period, the employer can claim sickness benefit reimbursement from social insurance.
Effective 27 February 2020, an amendment to the Sickness Benefits Act was put in place. The amendment extends access to sickness benefit reimbursement for employers, for COVID-19 related situations. The rules on the employer period are suspended temporarily so that reimbursement is provided to employers for paid salaries or sickness benefits already from the first day of absence if the absence is caused by COVID-19.
The provisional rules will automatically expire on 1 January 2021.
On 31 March 2020, amendments to the Labour Code related to downtime were adopted by the Parliament. Article 47(1) (2) of the labor code states that an employer may declare downtime for an employee or group of employees when the employer is not able to provide the employee with the contracted work for objective reasons not due to the employee’s fault. If the above-mentioned requirements are not met (i.e. there is no work due to the decrease in the market), the employer is able to announce the downtime based on the Article 47 (1) (1) of the Labour Code and pay as follows:
- For the 1st day of downtime: 100% of average salary;
- For the 2nd – 3rd day of downtime: 2/3 of average salary;
- For the 4th day and all subsequent days: 40% of average salary.
Employee’s salaries during the downtime cannot be lower than the minimum monthly salary. Employees in quarantine are entitled to receive sickness benefits for up to 14 calendar days amounting to 62.06 percent of gross salary. In such a case, an employer has to pay for the first 2 working days as per the work schedule.
Proposed amendments to wage subsidies will be taken up in the Parliament’s session on 7 April 2020.