The outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has now been confirmed as a worldwide pandemic and the World Health Organization has declared that this is a public health emergency of international concern. Understandably, this may be creating great concern and unrest for you and amongst your workforce. Below we answer some key questions to clarify employers' legal obligations and support you in protecting your business and people.
What are employers' obligations in respect of COVID-19?
Following recently adopted measures, certain establishments, stores and offices must be closed in order to eliminate physical contact with customers. Where possible, employees should be permitted to work remotely.
More generally, 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 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.
The employer is 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, organizational, 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.
As of 30 March 2020, the Government has also introduced new measures related to opening and "restarting" stores and establishments (including law firms). All individuals are required to appropriately cover their nose and mouth everywhere outside of the home. Several offices may be re-opened, but must meet strict measures, including:
- providing customers with disinfectant gels or any other kind of disinfectant and/or disposable gloves at the entrance;
- temperature checks at the entrance; and
- limiting the number of customers per square meter to one customer per 25 square meters.
Can employers request or require information from an employee about potential or actual exposure to the virus?
Yes, but the employer must comply with data processing principles including minimising the processing of personal data and ensuring that any processing complies with the Slovak Labour and Data Protection regulations.
In respect of employment, an employer may process personal data necessary to fulfil its 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 employer may then take appropriate measures upon communication of these facts.
As an employee cannot act contrary to the legitimate interests of their employer under the Labour Code, the employee 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).
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 the employee’s entry to the premises in order to protect the health of other employees.
More generally, employers should encourage employees returning from abroad to (i) notify the employer immediately of the return, and (ii) complete the mandatory 14 day quarantine. As of 6 April 2020, all individuals returning to Slovakia must undergo isolation at one of the state-run facilities. The facility will be chosen by the state and the isolation will last until receipt of the test results. In the event of a negative result, the individual (and all those living in the same household) will have to stay in home isolation for the next 14 days. Whilst mandatory isolation will not apply to some individuals (e.g. pregnant women, oncology patients, those older than 75 years, diplomats, truck drivers and plane crew), these categories of people will be required to stay at home for 14 days. For more information, please see the full text of the quarantine measures adopted here.
During the quarantine period, the employee must contact their GP to obtain “temporary sick leave status”. When granted, the employer will not be required to pay the employee as they will instead be paid by the Social Insurance Authority.
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 order 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 fulfil 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.
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 Slovakia. However, we 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).
The government has recently introduced first economy aid to small and medium enterprises ('SMEs') (employers and self-employed - in Slovak: SZČO (samostatne zárobkovo činná osoba)) who retain employees during the COVID-19 outbreak, if the entity had to close their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic based on the resolution of the relevant authorities and could not assign work. The government will pay 80% of employees' salaries (including social/health insurance contributions and tax payments), subject to a cap of EUR 1,100 per person and EUR 200,000 per company per month.
Furthermore, if a self-employed individual had to close their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will be entitled to receive a contribution of between EUR 90 and EUR 540 from the state, depending on how they are affected.
The government will make the following contributions per employee for March 2020:
- EUR 90 per employee for a drop in revenues of 10% to 20%;
- EUR 150 per employee for a drop in revenues of 20% to 30%;
- EUR 210 per employee for a drop in revenues of 30% to 40%; and
- EUR 270 per employee for a drop in revenues of more than 40%.
The government will make the following contributions per employee for April 2020:
- EUR 180 per employee for a drop in revenues of 20% to 40%;
- EUR 300 per employee for a drop in revenues of 40% to 60%;
- EUR 420 per employee for a drop in revenues of 60% to 80%; and
- EUR 540 per employee for a drop in revenues of more than 80%.
Self-employed individuals whose activity is dissolved or suspended and those who are simultaneously employed shall be exempted from the contribution. Further, the contribution will only be available if the individual has active medical and pension insurance, or is on tax holiday (in Slovak: "odvodové prázdniny").
Where can employers and employees access local and national advice?
Further information can be found on the following websites (in Slovak):
Last reviewed on 20 April 2020