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Coronavirus in the workplace – employers' rights and obligations in Slovakia

  • Slovakia

    06-03-2020

    Slovakia and the whole of Europe are increasingly under threat from the new coronavirus COVID-19, which is gradually spreading to all regions of the continent. For preventive reasons, some employers have already begun to let employees work from home. Employers are also increasingly limiting business travel abroad and we are seeing several travel restrictions to and from countries "affected" by coronavirus.

    General introduction

    The presence of coronavirus has not been confirmed in Slovakia as of 2 March 2020. Up to 169 tested samples were negative at the time of writing. The Security Council of the Slovak Republic met on 27 February and adopted several measures to combat coronavirus:

    • general temperature checks of passengers at all three Slovak international airports was introduced;
    • in areas affected by coronavirus, consular activities, such as issuing visas and entry permits, are temporarily restricted;
    • checks on the state of health of passengers will be introduced at borders and information leaflets will be handed out, in particular at the Slovak-Austrian border;
    • SMS messages are being sent to Slovak sim cards abroad with practical recommendations on how to defend against coronavirus [1].

    In addition, a 24-hour info line [2] has been set up. For more up-to-date information, it is also a good idea to follow the site of the public health authority. [3]

    At risk employees

    The Public Health Authority of the Slovak Republic is encouraging everyone who has returned from affected areas to check their health during the incubation period (14 days after returning), pay attention to thorough hand hygiene, increase disinfection of household surfaces, cough and sneeze into paper tissues (which should then be thrown in the trash), and limit visits to areas with a higher number of people. This is the group of high-risk employees that employers should deal with in some way.

    Coronavirus and home office

    In our legal practice, employers are now often asking us whether they can order an employee to work from home for two weeks.

    The amendment to the Labour Code is rather sparse when it comes to questions of home office. The employer has no right to order the employee to work from home. The employer may ask an employee to work from home within the meaning of Section 52 (5) of the Labour Code only occasionally or may in extraordinary circumstances agree on the performance of work from home. For this, the following requirements must be met:

    • work from home can only be done upon prior agreement or with the employee's consent;
    • the type of work must be suitable to be performed from home.

    Home office must be distinguished from work from home, where the place of work under the employment contract is agreed as the employee's home or another place.

    It is up to each employee who has returned from a country affected by coronavirus to consider if they want to infect their colleagues or to work for two weeks from home as a kind of voluntary quarantine with the employer's consent.

    Coronavirus and having the employee stay at home due to "impediments" to work

    Given that work from home is a voluntary institute, an employee may refuse to work from home. It is then up to the employer to decide whether to allow the employee to perform work in the workplace. However, this option runs counter to the employer's general obligations to protect the health and safety of workers in the workplace. If the employer does not allow the employee to enter the workplace, this means it will not allocate work to the employee, giving rise to an impediment to work on the part of the employer. In this case, in accordance with Section 142 (3) of the Labour Code, the employee is entitled to compensation of wages in the amount of his or her average earnings.

    Coronavirus and employee quarantine

    Quarantine may only be ordered by the Public Health Authority. After quarantine has been ordered, the employer is obliged under Section 55 (2) (c) of the Labour Code to reassign the employee to work of a different kind or in another place (i.e. also work from home or home office).

    The employer no longer needs the consent of the employee to transfer him or her to another job because of quarantine. If the employer does not have another type of work for the employee or work in another place, this would constitute a so-called important personal impediment to work. The employee's absence from work would be justified by the employer. The employee is incapable of work and is entitled to receive a benefit under the social insurance regulations.

    Coronavirus and ordering holiday leave 

    We are currently encountering situations where employers are ordering employees who have recently returned from an area at risk to take holiday. However, this procedure is not in accordance with the Labour Code, for whilst the employer may order the employee to take holiday, it is also necessary to take into account the legitimate interests of the employee and must be done 14 days in advance. Exceptionally, this period may be reduced only with the consent of the employee.

    Coronavirus and decline in employer orders

    It is possible for the volume of orders of some employers to drop to the point where they do not have enough work for their employees. In this case, it is deemed an impediment to work on the part of the employer and the employee is entitled to the reimbursement of their average monthly earnings.

    Coronavirus and serious operational reasons

    In the event of a genuine coronavirus pandemic, employers should consider concluding an agreement with employee representatives, if present in the company, and define so-called serious operational reasons. Serious operational reasons are reasons why an employer cannot allocate work to employees. This is a very convenient and elegant solution. This does not have to result in mass redundancies and employees will be compensated at least 60% of their average monthly wages.

    Conclusion

    At the time of writing, no case of coronavirus infection has been confirmed in Slovakia. We recommend placing an increased emphasis on prevention. [4]

     

    Disclaimer

    This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.

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