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Coronavirus - Employment law update - Lithuania

  • Lithuania
  • Coronavirus - Country overview
  • Coronavirus - Workforce issues
  • Employment law

31-03-2020

Overview

Our previous briefing on this topic (Coronavirus: Implications for Employers) set out the main issues facing employers when dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. In this briefing we address some of the more common questions raised by Lithuanian employers.

In a situation of great uncertainty, employers need to focus on maintaining their employees’ trust and confidence by showing leadership; following government guidance; and by acting fairly, reasonably and consistently.

General Principles

Lithuanian employers should:

  • monitor and follow advice and guidance from relevant authorities such as the Government, the State Labour Inspectorate, the Ministry of Health
  • assess the risks faced by their employees and visitors and implement measures to mitigate those risks, paying particular attention to vulnerable staff (such as those who are pregnant; with impaired immunity; on secondment or working away from home)
  • inform their employees about their proposed measures
  • apply flexible working (teleworking) where possible
  • review policies governing business travel, holidays, and home working to ensure a reasonable and consistent approach, taking account of their risk assessment and government guidance
  • update contact details for staff and management
  • devise arrangements for dealing with staff who have to travel abroad; who may be at particular risk of contracting COVID-19; or who report symptoms and may have COVID-19

1. Employer’s duty of care – what does the law in Lithuania say?

Employers in Lithuania have a legal duty to ensure appropriate, safe and healthy working conditions as established in the Republic of Lithuania Law on Safety and Health at Work. Safety and health at work measures must be funded by the employer. An employee is entitled to refuse to work if there is a risk to the employee’s safety or health, if collective protective measures are not in place or if the employee has not been provided with the necessary personal protective equipment

According to recommendations of the State Labour Inspectorate, in order to prevent the spreading of COVID-19, employers should:

  • ensure regular airing of premises at least 5 times a day
  • supply employees with personal hygiene means (soap, disposable paper towels, hand sanitizers)
  • ensure access to personal hygiene means (disinfection means) in the entire workplace (next to the main entrance, next to bathrooms and other rooms with washbasins)
  • ensure wet cleaning of surfaces in the office (tables, chairs, windowsills, etc.) at least once a day
  • ensure disinfection of bathrooms and handles of bathroom doors at least 5 times a day
  • inform employees about application of personal hygiene means by placing notices in frequently visited and visible places (for example, by placing notices next to entrances/exits)

General recommendations from the Ministry of Health include social distancing and use of personal protective equipment.

Employers should consider, and where appropriate implement, appropriate additional measures, explain those measures to their employees, and explain the steps they are taking to monitor the situation.

2. Business travel – should travel be restricted?

With effect from 16 March 2020, the Lithuanian Government established a lockdown (quarantine), under which Lithuanian citizens are prohibited from leaving the country. Exceptions are made in cases where people are returning to their homes abroad, for travel to their workplace abroad or where permitted by the Head of the State Border Protection Service (or the Head’s authorized person).

Persons who have returned to Lithuania from abroad are subject to a mandatory 14 days’ isolation. This requirement should be considered when sending employees to work abroad.

Entry into Lithuania for foreigners is prohibited, save for persons with their place of residence in Lithuania, drivers/crew members in case of transportation of commercial and/or international cargos as well as diplomats, NATO military, their family members and servicing personnel.

3. Flexible working - can an employer require staff to work flexibly?

Where the Government of the Republic of Lithuania declares the state of emergency or quarantine, in order to ensure health protection of employees and third parties, the employer must propose (in writing) to any employee whose health condition poses a threat to the health safety of other employees, to work remotely (if the nature of the agreed work allows telework). If the employee refuses or does not respond within 1 working day, the employer must suspend the employee by no later than the next working day and cease payment of salary.

Under the current quarantine in Lithuania, the continued operation of shops, sales and/or entertainment centres, markets and some other businesses are prohibited (save for sales of foods, veterinary, pharmaceutical and optic goods as well as food markets). As a result, many employees are unable to perform their job functions in their permanent job place. Therefore, where possible, the employer should allow employees to work remotely, with their normal salary maintained.

4. Staff who are unable or unwilling to attend work?

Some staff may be able but unwilling to attend work because they are concerned about contracting COVID-19. Where work can be undertaken from home, it may be possible to agree home working for a short period.

In other cases, such as site-based work or where staff are unable to work due to caring for dependants, it may be possible to agree that time away is taken as holiday or unpaid leave. However, if an agreed resolution cannot be found and an employee refuses to attend work without good cause, disciplinary action could be considered.

Before taking action, employers should ensure that they have undertaken a risk assessment and have taken steps to mitigate any workplace risks which might cause employees concern. They should also ensure that they have dealt with requests to remain away from work in a proportionate, reasonable and consistent manner.

5. If staff cannot attend work, are they entitled to pay?

This will depend on the reason for the non-attendance.

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

Pay for staff members unable to come to work due to caring responsibilities where schools or kindergartens are closed will be funded by the State Social Insurance Fund for a period of 14 days or until the end of the state of emergency and quarantine.

Note that employees have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with domestic emergencies affecting their dependants, including unexpected disruption to arrangements for the care of their children.

If an employee has no COVID-19  symptoms but has returned from a territory affected by COVID-19 or has had contact with a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case, the employee should remotely obtain a sick leave certificate for 14 calendar days. However, sick leave is issued only if the employee cannot work remotely and is not put on idle time (i.e. not laid-off from work, where the company cannot provide employees with agreed work due to the COVID-19 situation).

6. Reporting - Can an employer require staff to report suspected cases of the COVID-19 relating to themselves or those they have come into contact with?

Employers are obliged to maintain a safe place of work and should consider taking appropriate steps to prevent staff who are infected (or who are likely to be infected) from coming into the workplace. This may include, for example, health screening questionnaires for staff members returning to work from high-risk areas and training managers to spot symptoms of COVID-19.

In certain sectors, medical checks are required. In catering, manufacture of foods, medical care activities and other sectors, the employer must suspend an employee from work and stop payment of the salary until the employee is medically checked to determine whether the employee has contracted a communicable disease, or the employer must transfer the employee to another position where the employee can work according to the employee’s health status. A refusal to undergo a check when such a check is legally required may result in that employee’s dismissal due to gross breach of work duties.

In all sectors, employers can request staff to report if they are infected or have been exposed to infection. However, under data protection law, such information about an individual’s health counts as a ‘special category’ of personal data which may only be processed in limited circumstances. The processing of this information (for instance what and how it will be used and with whom it will be shared – as strictly necessary) should be made clear and employers should ensure that the processing is necessary and appropriate for the stated purpose and is carried out in a proportionate manner. Maintaining the security of the personal data will be fundamental.

7. If there is a decreased requirement for staff due to the COVID-19 outbreak, can employers require employees to take annual leave during a shut down period?

Employers cannot designate the dates on which an employee takes annual leave, unless otherwise provided in the annual leave schedule (if there is one in the company).

8. What other contingency planning steps should employers be taking?

Effective planning is key to ensuring business continuity and the protection of employees. In addition to the above, employers should:

  • create a senior team to co-ordinate monitoring government guidance, implementing measures and providing information and support to staff
  • devise an appropriate communications plan to keep staff fully informed, even when they are absent from work, together with provision of emergency contact details
  • ask employees to report if they are ill or at particular risk of infection; and inform them of the steps they should then take to receive appropriate medical attention
  • train managers on the employer’s measures and provide them with information to identify and respond to risks, as well as providing support and training to staff on key facts and risks
  • consider alternatives to travel such as using videoconferencing or webinars
  • identify and track employees who are abroad and consider appropriate measures to support them
  • identify key roles in their business which are essential for business continuity and the measures necessary to ensure their resilience (for example remote working or split key teams into different locations)
  • consider any measures necessary to sustain widespread home working
  • review relevant policies (for example home working, emergency leave) and agree changes to staff contracts to deliver flexibility
  • consider how temporary shutdowns of premises might be managed
  • consider their stance on requests to work flexibly and on self-isolation, quarantine and sickness and ensure that it is reasonable, fair and applied consistently

9. Where can guidance from the Lithuanian government and international bodies be found and monitored?

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:

The State Tax Inspectorate - www.vmi.lt

The State Social Insurance Fund – www.sodra.lt

The State Labour Inspectorate - www.vdi.lt

The Ministry of Social Security and Labour - https://socmin.lrv.lt

10. If an employer has a business operation in an affected area, what additional steps should be taken?

Companies operating in affected areas should comply with local regulations. They may also be subject to implement special measures or to notify public health bodies if any of their employees are suspected to be ill.

Beyond compliance with local laws, companies should ensure measures are taken to properly assess the risks to staff and the impact on business continuity and should adapt their plans accordingly.

Our extensive global footprint means that we are well placed to help employers, wherever they have a presence. Our teams across the world have been supporting employers to steer through the legal and practical employment implications raised by the outbreak, including producing a variety of updates.

11. Is there any obligation on a private employer to report any cases or suspect cases of COVID-19 to the relevant local authorities?

In certain sectors, such as manufacture of food, catering, medical care activities and others, employers should ensure medical checks are carried out to determine whether employees have contracted a communicable disease