COVID-19: Guidance for Employers in Slovakia

By Bibiana Mozolova, Katarina Pfeffer

04-2020

Below we answer some key questions to clarify Slovak employers' legal obligations and support you in protecting your business and people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the current level of restrictions in the Slovak Republic?

Despite the fact that the present epidemical situation in the Slovak Republic is worsening, it is under control for now. The special pandemic commission has already confirmed the second wave of the coronavirus in the territory and has adopted a pandemic plan.

The incidence of diseases in the Slovak Republic has the character of a locally increased incidence caused by the arrival of people from abroad, especially to some companies or families. Areas of public life where large numbers of people congregate in relatively thin-face conditions have the greatest potential for the spread of the coronavirus.

Recently, the Slovak epidemiologists' council has decided on some tighter rules to become effective as of 1 September, despite "the massive lifting of the measures" which occurred in the last months and aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 throughout the territory.

The purpose of the new rules is to protect the public health during the second wave of COVID-19 as well as to balance the risk of the spread of COVID-19 associated with the return of people from abroad, students to schools after the holidays, and employees to work after the holidays.

With respect to the start of the school year on 2 September, all pupils from "the fifth grade and higher" will be obliged to wear facemasks at school at all times.

Mass events will be banned, mostly events with a capacity of more than 1,000 people outside and more than 500 people inside. Facemasks will be mandatory at these mass events, both outside and inside.

The "red list of countries" where the quarantine and COVID-19 testing will be mandatory upon return to the Slovak Republic has been extended. In addition, the new rules for quarantine have been adopted. The mandatory quarantine will apply to people returning from a "red list country" and will represent 10 days instead of the original 14 days.

The Public Health Authority of the Slovak Republic generally recommends considering the need to travel abroad. For shorter trips abroad that are necessary, it is recommended transporting by car. If a person is abroad, the Public Health Authority of the Slovak Republic recommends choosing accommodation outside "the main routes" and with a smaller number of people.

It is also appropriate to pay attention to a sufficient social distance from strangers, thorough washing of hands and wearing facemasks in public interior spaces and in places with a higher concentration of people.

All and any necessary information can be found at http://www.uvzsr.sk/ and https://korona.gov.sk/

What are employers' obligations in respect of COVID-19?

In general, employers are obliged to take necessary measures to ensure occupational health and safety properly and promptly and must ensure that these measures are applicable and accessible to employees. To that end, in light of COVID-19 employers particularly must:

  • carry out the necessary checks to identify dangers or risks to the health and safety of employees;

  • eliminate or remove hazards and the resulting risks as far as possible;

  • assess risks that cannot be excluded;

  • to the extent risks cannot be excluded, take measures to eliminate or limit hazards and threats; and

  • issue instructions to ensure health and safety.

Employers are also required to comply with disease prevention measures, which may include prohibiting or restricting the work of persons suffering from (or suspected to be suffering from) COVID-19.

If an employee is infected or suspected to be infected with COVID-19, the employer should assess the risks of infection and possible spread among the workforce and take appropriate measures to minimise and/or remove that risk. Such measures may include technical, organisational, and other protective and preventative measures. However, the measures taken must be proportionate to the objective pursued and should not unduly interfere with the rights and legitimate interests of employees. These measures may include:

  • cleaning the workplace with disinfectants;

  • implementing an increased level of hygiene protection at the workplace, and carrying out regular disinfection of premises and equipment;

  • providing medical masks or respirators for employees (in accordance with the instructions and recommendations of the Central Crisis Staff); and

  • minimising employee contact with third parties.

We recommend that employers discuss all measures, as well as internal regulations, with the occupational health service that performs health surveillance for employees to ensure that they are appropriate and effective.

Please note that the Public Health Authority of the Slovak Republic has published several guidelines related to the "return of the employees to the workspace." These recommendations and guideline is summarised by us here

What financial assistance is the Government providing to employers?

The first economy aid to SMEs (employers and self-employed in Slovak: SZČO - samostatne zárobkovo činná osoba – small, medium and big enterprises included) has been introduced by the Slovak government. This aid is addressed to the above subjects, based on certain criteria:

  1. criteria "1" - Keeping working positions when the extraordinary situation (in Slovak: mimoriadna situácia) is declared, despite limitation or closure of proper operation - applicable to employers and self-employed

  2. criteria "2" - Closure of operations due to pandemic based on relevant authority's decision, and impossibility to assign work to the employees - applicable to employers and self-employed

  3. criteria "3" - Decrease in revenues due to pandemic (drop of 20, 40, 60 and 80%) - applicable to self-employed only

In case of criteria "1" the subjects may choose to ask for one of the following state subsidy:

  1. Government will contribute to the employees' salaries, and thus will contribute 80% of employees' monthly average salaries ("kurzarbeit") - capped at 880 EUR per person monthly.

  2. Government will contribute from 90 EUR to 540 EUR depending on how the subjects are affected by the pandemic. As regards the period of March 2020, the government will contribute 90 EUR per employee in case of a subject with drop in revenues from 10% to 20%. A subject with drop in revenues from 20% to 30% will get 150 EUR per employee. Those with revenues dropped from 30% to 40% will get 210 EUR per employee, and those with more than 40% drop will get 270 EUR. As regards to the period of April, May, June and July 2020, the Government will contribute 180 EUR per employee in case of subjects with drop in revenues from 20% to 40%. The subjects with drop in revenues from 40% to 60% will get 300 EUR per employee. Those whose revenues dropped from 60% to 80% will get 420 EUR per employee, and those with more than 80% drop will get 540 EUR.
    As the situation is improving gradually, in June and July the employers shall be allowed to switch between two above alternatives (i) or (ii) depending on what is more advantageous for them. They shall be also allowed to apply different alternatives on their various operations according to their needs and preference.

In case of criteria "2", the Government will pay 80% of employees' monthly average salaries - capped at 1,100 EUR per person monthly.

In case of criteria "3", the Government will contribute from 90 EUR to 540 EUR depending on how the self-employed are affected. As regards the period of March 2020, the Government will contribute 90 EUR per employee in case of self-employed with drop in revenues from 10% to 20%. The self-employed with drop in revenues from 20% to 30% will get 150 EUR per employee. Those with revenues dropped from 30% to 40% will get 210 EUR per employee, and those with more than 40% drop will get 270 EUR. As regards the period of April, May, June and July 2020, the Government will contribute 180 EUR per employee in case of self-employed with drop in revenues from 20% to 40%. The self-employed with drop in revenues from 40% to 60% will get 300 EUR per employee. Those whose revenues dropped from 60% to 80% will get 420 EUR per employee, and those with more than 80% drop will get 540 EUR.

Can employers request or require information from an employee, customer or workplace visitor about potential or actual exposure to the virus?

Mostly, YES. Employers must however comply with data processing principles including minimising the processing of personal data and ensuring that any processing complies with the Slovak Labour and relevant Data Protection regulations.

In respect of employment, the employers may process personal data necessary to fulfil their legal obligations (such as obligations relating to the health and safety in the workplace or public interest). In the current circumstances, such processing can legitimately be considered necessary due to an overriding public interest in the field of public health. In these circumstances, there is no need to rely on individual consent to process personal data.

As such, employers should request that employees notify them of (i) any departure or return from a country outside the Slovak Republic, and (ii) any contact with persons who have returned from abroad or showed signs of infection. The employers may then take appropriate measures upon communication of these facts.

Given the fact that the employees cannot act contrary to the legitimate interests of their employer under the Slovak Labour Code, employees will be required to provide this information. Employees also have an obligation to undergo medical examinations and diagnostic tests concerning the prevention of contagious diseases under a special law.

Most employers will already have the relevant measures and legal basis for requiring such data from employees included in their internal policies and documents. However, we highly recommend that an internal regulation (binding on both the employee and the employer) is adopted, containing the obligations of the employer, the obligations of the employees, and a list of preventive and follow-up measures. The obligations contained in this internal regulation will be binding, and any breach may be considered a serious breach that may be subject to disciplinary process (as it could damage the health of other employees and/or prevent the employer's economic activities).

For workplaces that are open, what should employers do if an employee is absent or infected?

As mentioned above, employers are required to systematically secure the protection and security of their employees when performing work and should assess the risks of infection and possible spread among the workforce, and then take appropriate measures to minimise and/or remove that risk. An employer may prohibit an employee’s entry to the premises in order to protect the health of other employees.

As of 1 September, employers will be entitled to require their employees to prove that they had been on 10-day-quarantine and/or have taken a COVID-19 test which resulted negative after each trip to a country on the "red list". Any workers from non-EU countries are only allowed to start working, if they provide a negative COVID-19 test. Those arriving to the Slovak Republic from Ukraine will be required to fill out the respective form on the korona.gov.sk website. They will be allowed to enter the territory of the Slovak Republic only after they have duly registered.

The employers are also entitled to order an "extraordinary medical preventive check" to assess whether an employee is infected if there is a serious ground (e.g. reasonable suspicion of infection) and the employee can't perform his/her working duties due to their "state of health". However, the employer must consult the employee's representatives and the labour health service (if applicable) before exercising this right, and data protection principles will apply to the storage and use of any information received.

What are employers' obligations where offices are partially or fully closed?

Employers are entitled to direct employees to work from home if the agreed type of work allows it and there are no serious operational reasons on the part of the employer that does not allow working from home.

If an employee works from home, the employer should provide the employee with the necessary equipment to fulfill their work duties remotely, or at least ensure that the employee is properly equipped to work remotely. The employer must continue to pay the employee during any period of remote working.

If working from home is not reasonably possible, employers must provide employees with all relevant protective tools and apply reasonable (mostly preventive) measures to minimise the spread of infection at the workplace. To that end, employers should consider restricting working hours, minimising personal meetings, and reducing or eliminating non-essential business travel. For more information, as outlined above, please see our summary of the recommendations on security and protection measures to be applied by the employers at workplace, published by the Public Health Authority of the Slovak Republic, here.

As an alternative, employers can exercise their right to reassign employees to another type of work (other than that agreed in the employment contract) in extraordinary circumstances. This can be done without the prior consent of the employee, but can only be for as long as necessary.

If employees cannot perform work (fully or partially) due to a shutdown or reduction in operations as a consequence of a resolution from the authorities or the declaration of an extraordinary situation, state of urgency or state of emergency, the employer must provide the employees with salary compensation for at least 80% of their average earnings. As a general rule, the salary compensation must not be lower than the minimum salary applicable in the Slovak Republic. However, please note that employers have the right to agree lower salary compensation with the employee representatives (to a minimum of 60% of the average earnings of the employees).

Can employers discipline employees during the pandemic?

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic employees are under a general duty to duly fulfill their obligations under the Slovak Labor Code, employer's internal regulations and the contract with the employer (where possible). In other words, the COVID-19 pandemic does not release employees from their working duties and the employer may adopt warning and remedial measures and discipline employees in the usual way.

Where can employers and employees access local and national advice?

Further useful information can be found on the following official websites (mostly in Slovak):

Last reviewed: 31 August 2020