The COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented situation whereby employees' rights are rapidly changing. Sometimes, so fast that it is difficult to keep track.
This article seeks to give a brief overview of some of the recent directives given by the Ministry of Administrative Development and Labour Affairs (the Ministry) (and further articles will follow should there be further developments). This will be useful for both employees and employers looking to keep track of developments.
Payments during the quarantine and cessation of business
The Ministry has indicated that all employees instructed to enter into isolation, quarantine or treatment by a specialised medical team working under the supervision of the Supreme Committee for Crisis Management (within the Ministry of Public Health) are still entitled to their basic salary and allowances irrespective of their contractual position as regards sick pay.
Where an employer is offering reduced services or has temporarily ceased trading in line with government instructions, employees should still receive their basic salary and allowances. However employers and employees can mutually agree that employees will take unpaid leave or use annual leave if an employee is not assigned any work or the employer's business has halted (although employers must continue to provide other benefits such as accommodation and food).
Employers continue to have the right to terminate employment contracts, however this must be done in compliance with the terms of the Labour Law (Law No.14 of 2004) and the contract (including the notice period, payment of all outstanding entitlements and a return ticket to the employee's home country).
Reduced wokring hours/reduction of the number of employees required to attend the workplace
For a discussion of this topic, please see our previous article which can be found here.
Employers are required to share information with employees by:
- keeping employees informed as to measures being implemented by the business and the government;
- highlighting to employees the importance of good personal hygiene, checking their body temperature regularly and monitoring themselves for respiratory symptoms;
- working with employee representatives who can communicate in their employees’ languages; and
- encouraging employees to share information and to ask questions.
Employers are required to safeguard the wellbeing of employees by:
- increasing the frequency of routine cleaning and sanitation of areas with high human contact in workplaces, accommodation, work transportation and workplace common spaces; and
- providing disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Employers are required to limit gatherings of employees by:
- staggering the entry and exit of employees from the workplace;
- restricting the use of common spaces to a limited number of employees at the same time;
- reducing population density in the workplace and accommodation by allocating six square metres per employee in accommodation facilities;
- prohibiting all in-person meetings that are not essential; and
- suspending all training events.
Health and safety requirements
Employers are required to safeguard the health and safety of their employees by:
- performing a risk assessment to protect employees and mitigate the spread of COVID-19;
- working with public health authorities to develop a plan to identify suspected cases of COVID-19 and to manage them properly;
- providing psychological and social support to employees;
- isolating any employee with a high temperature and reporting the same to the Ministry of Public Health;
- providing additional precautionary measures to employees who are most vulnerable to infection, such as those with chronic diseases (ie diabetes or heart and respiratory diseases); and
- ensuring the use of masks and availability of hand sanitiser in the workplace.
The Ministry has emphasised that the Labour Inspection Department will monitor employers’ compliance through strict inspection campaigns and failure to comply will result in the application of a variety of penalties.
For further information, or assistance, please contact Ben Brown or Alistair Stewart.