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Coronavirus – Employment Law – Estonia

  • Estonia
  • Coronavirus - Country overview
  • Coronavirus - Workforce issues

17-04-2020

https://ezine.eversheds-sutherland.com/covid-19-global-employment-guide/covid-19-global-employment-guide//

1. What does the law say about employer’s duty of care?

Employers in Estonia have a legal duty to ensure working conditions correspond to occupational health and safety requirements. In the event that there is suspicion of an infectious disease, the employer has the right to ask the employee to undergo an occupational health check. In the case of an infection, it is the shared responsibility of both the employer and the employee, that the employee takes sick-leave or at least works from home, provided that remote working is possible.

General recommendations from the Estonian Government include social distancing and use of personal protective equipment. Employers should consider, and where appropriate implement, appropriate additional measures.

2. Are there any special considerations for vulnerable staff?

In the case of redundancies, employees’ representatives, pregnant employees, employees on maternity leave and employees who are raising a child under three years of age have the preferential right of keeping their job. According to the Estonian Employment Contracts Act, there are four types of employees’ representatives: Trade Union’s representative, trustee/shop steward, working environment representative and representative of the central management of a community-scale undertaking.

3. Can flexible working be required?

Yes, in order to ensure health protection of employees and third parties, the employer has the right to discontinue normal work processes and ask their workers to work from home, if possible, or to stay in quarantine. This is under the condition that workers will continue to get paid and receive other benefits guaranteed by their employment contract or the law.

Under the current emergency situation in Estonia, the continued operation of shopping centres and entertainment establishments have been closed down. This excludes food stores, pharmacies, telecommunications stores, banks, self-service post offices, and stores selling medical equipment. As a result, many employees are unable to perform their job functions in their usual workplace. Therefore, where possible, the employer should allow employees to work remotely, with their normal salary maintained.

4. If an employee cannot attend work due to COVID-19 infection, are they entitled to receive pay?

Staff who cannot work because they have been infected with COVID-19 will normally be entitled to sick pay in the usual way.

5. If an employee cannot attend work due to self-isolation or quarantine, are they entitled to receive pay?

An employee with a work contract has an obligation to work according to the agreed conditions. However, an employee returning from abroad must take into account the recommendations of the Estonian Health Board and remain at home for two weeks. This does not automatically mean that the employee is not required to work. The employee must inform their employer and agree how best to arrange work.

In case remote working is not possible, the employee should remotely obtain a sick leave certificate for 14 calendar days. In the case of sick leave, the employee is entitled to 70% of their salary. Days 1-3 as well as 9-14 of the quarantine are compensated by the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, while days 4-8 must be paid by the employer.

6. If an employee cannot work due to childcare responsibilities with schools being closed, are they entitled to receive pay?

A certificate for care leave can be issued in order to take care of a child under the age of 12, or for a disabled child under the age of 19. The benefit is 80% of the average salary and is paid from the first day of leave. The Health Insurance Fund pays for up to 14 days of leave but the leave certificate may be extended.

In the case where a family member is infected with CoVID-19, the employee may issue a certificate for care leave in order to give care to their family member. This paid allowance is given for 7 days and is payable from the first day of leave in the amount of 80% of the average wage or salary.

7. Is an employee entitled to refuse to attend work due to concerns about being infected with COVID-19?

There is no legal basis for an employee to require an employer to be relased from the obligation to work. There is no obligation on the employer to allow the employee time off without good reason, but in a situation where the authorities have issued a recommendation to stay at home, the two must come to a mutual agreement.

Where work can be done from home, it may be possible to agree home working for a short period of time. In other cases, such as site-based work, it may be possible to agree that time away is taken as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer and employee must come to a mutual agreement regarding the holiday or unpaid leave. The employer cannot unilaterally force an employee to agree to a vacation. In the case where the employer and employee cannot reach an agreement on working from home or where it is not possible, the employee is still required to work as stated in their employment contract.

8. Can an employer require staff to report confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 relating to themselves or someone they have come into contact with?

In the case where there is a suspected case of an infectious disease, the employer has the right to ask the employee to undergo an occupational health check. The employee must stay at home and contact their physician who will then decide on the need for testing for COVID-19, diagnosis and sick leave. The employer does not have the right to require COVID-19 test results to allow the employee to return to work.

9. Is there any requirement on an employer to report confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19?

In the case where there is suspicion of an infectious disease, the employer has the right to ask the employee to undergo an occupational health check, however, the final decision on whether a COVID-19 test is necessary, is up to the employee’s physician.

10. During a shutdown period, can employees be required to take annual leave?

In the case where remote working is not possible, the employer and the employee may agree to provide either unpaid or (additional) paid leave. The employee and employer must come to a mutual agreement on the annual leave. The employer may not unilaterally force the employee to take a vacation or cancel salary payments.

In addition to unpaid leave and remote working, it is possible to agree to use authorised annual leave. If annual leave has been pre-arranged, changes to annual leave can only be made if mutually agreed. If the employee does not wish to use the employee’s authorised annual leave, another agreement must be confirmed.

11. Can employees be put on short-time or laid off for a temporary period?

Establishing a state of emergency and banning many events and limiting the activities of companies also damages the economy and creates difficulties for employers. The Employment Contracts Act states that if an employer, due to unforeseen economic circumstances beyond its control, fails to provide an employee with work to the agreed extent, the employer may, for up to three months over a period of 12 months, reduce the wages to a reasonable amount, but it must not fall below the minimum wage established by the Government of the Republic.

Therefore, employers have the possibility of unilaterally reducing wages by reducing the volume of work if the employer’s ability to pay normal wages is impaired.

The employee has the right to refuse to work in proportion to the reduction in pay. This means that if the employer wants to reduce the salary by 50%, the amount of work must be reduced to the same extent. However, wages may not be reduced below the national minimum wage (€584 gross).

12. In the event of a government directed shutdown of an office, is an employer required to continue to pay the employees in that office?

If the employee cannot perform the agreed work remotely, the employer will order idle time due to the state of emergency and must pay the employee a monthly salary of at least the national minimum monthly salary, where the employee is employed as full-time. For part-time employees, the above-mentioned amount is pro-rated accordingly.

13. Is there any state support for temporarily laid off staff?

Temporary subsidies will be paid to those employees whose employers are significantly impacted by the current extraordinary circumstances. The subsidy will grant an income for the employees and help the employers to surpass temporary difficulties without having to lay off their staff or call bankruptcy.

The subsidy is paid, when an employer is in a situation where they comply with at least two of the following terms:

  • The employer must have suffered at least a 30% decline in turnover or revenue for the month they wish to be subsidized for, as compared to the same month last year
  • The employer is not able to provide at least 30% of their employees with work
  • The employer has cut the wages of at least 30% of employees by at least 30% or down to the minimum wage

Subsidies will be paid to employees whose employers are not able to provide them with work or whose wages have been reduced. The amount of the subsidy will be 70% of the average monthly wage of the employee. The maximum amount of the subsidy is €1000. In addition to that, the employer must pay a wage of at least €150 to the employee. The employee will receive at least the minimum wage of €584 from the Unemployment Insurance Fund and their employer, collectively. In case the employee has thus far received less than the minimum wage due to working part-time, their income will remain the same as before. Any employee’s wage can be subsidized for up to two months during a three-month-period.

14. In the event of redundancies, what number of dismissals will trigger collective consultation requirements?

To know if the termination of the contract of more than one employee is to be seen as a collective redundancy, the average number of employees over the previous six months must be taken into account. The thresholds are:

  • a redundancy of 5 or more employees, when the average number is up to 19;
  • a redundancy of 10 or more employees, when the average number is between 20 and 99;
  • a redundancy of 10% or more of workers, when the average number is between 100 and 299;
  • a redundancy of 30 or more employees, when the average number is at least 300.

When a collective redundancy is imminent, the employees or their representatives have to be notified of this intent, and have to be consulted in order to try and prevent the collective redundancy, try to reduce the number of employees that have to leave, and/or try to agree on measures that help those who are fired.

15. Where collective consultation applies, what is the minimum collective consultation period?

The employees or their representatives then have 15 days to react to employers’ news and proposals. The employer may allow for a longer period of consultation and negotiations.

16. Where can employers find government information about the latest measures affecting workforce issues in connection with COVID-19?

The World Health Organization’s information on the COVID-19 may be found here: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Other useful links for employers are as follows:

For more information contact

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