Antivirus programme and further state support for employers and others

The government has adopted several measures to support employers, employees and the self-employed in the coronavirus pandemic. The aim is to ensure that employers do not have to lay off employees. The government also wants to help employed and self-employed parents of young children now that schools are closed. New governmental measures are being adopted in quick succession, and continuously specified by the authorities. To make it easier for employers to understand their duties towards their employees and the options they may use to at least partly stabilise their operations, we have prepared a brief summary of these measures.

Antivirus programme

The first version of the Antivirus programme was passed by the government on 19 March 2020. It aims to protect jobs with employers directly affected by governmental measures comprising shutdown of some operations to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus infection (Regimes A-B). This Monday, 23 March 2020, the government allowed Kurzarbeit, extending the Antivirus programme also to entities indirectly affected by the measures (Regimes C-E). The government defined a total of five regimes, covering the following situations:

Regime A – Employee quarantine. Wage compensation shall be paid to employees in the amount of 60% of their average assessment base. Employers will receive a contribution in the full amount of the wage compensating paid.

Regime B – Impossibility to assign work to employees due to extraordinary measures adopted by the government. Employers have been ordered to close their premises by the government’s resolution on adopting emergency measures in connection with the COVID-19 infection. Wage compensation shall be payed to employees in the amount of 100% of their wage. Employers will receive a contribution in the amount of 80% of the wage compensation paid.

Regime C – Impossibility to assign work to employees due to a significant portion of employees being quarantined or caring for a child.  This means at least 30% of employees of a company/ operation/plant/shop or other organisational unit, depending on the employer’s circumstances. Wage compensation shall be payed to employees in the amount of 100%. Employers will receive a contribution in the amount of 80 % of the wage compensation paid.

Regime D – Limited availability of inputs (raw materials, products, services) necessary for the employer’s activity due to quarantine (or generally a production stoppage) at their suppliers, including foreign ones. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has announced on their website that this means, e.g., agreements on proving the origin of inputs, prohibitions of certain actions, or other measures supportably affecting supplies to the employer. Wage compensation shall be payed to employees in the amount of 80%. Employers will receive a contribution in the amount of 50% of the wage compensation paid.

Regime E – Limited demand for employer’s services, goods or other products due to quarantine measures in the employer’s market (in the Czech Republic and abroad). Wage compensation shall be payed to employees in the amount of at least 60%. Employers will receive a contribution in the amount of 50% of the wage compensation paid.

The compensation will be provided to employers whose business activity is affected as a result of the pandemic. It will be provided as a contribution  fully or partly covering the wage compensation that the employees are entitled to due to obstacles to work, as long as such obstacles to work may be subsumed under one of the above regimes (A-E), and if it can simultaneously be proven that the obstacle occurred as result of COVID-19.

The contribution will be provided by the Czech Labour Office, upon application by the employer. Employers shall apply for a refund of wage compensations paid after the end of the reporting period, i.e., after the end of the month for which they have applied for contributions. No further details on drawing this support nor the application form have been released yet; we expect them to be published within the next couple of days.

The question remains for how long the Czech Labour Office will provide the contribution. According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs’ information currently available, the amount and duration of the contribution will depend on the cause of the obstacle to work, while it shall be assessed on an individual basis for each employee. The previous governmental resolution (of 19 March 2020), when Regimes C-E have not yet been approved, had stated that the compensation shall be provided for 10 days of the obstacle to work’s existence for a specific employee; however, the subsequent governmental resolutions no longer mention this or any other deadline. The government has also appointed the minister of labour and social affairs to prepare a common methodology for both parts of the Employment Support Programme and to submit it to the government for approval. We expect this methodology to clarify the Antivirus programme’s issues that remain open.

Change in the regime of obstacles to work for employees of shutdown operations

On 23 March, the government adopted a resolution acknowledging the extraordinary measures adopted on the same date by the Ministry of Health under to the Public Health Protection Act, extending the prohibition of retail sales of goods, sale of services and some other activities (restaurants, spas, hairdressers) until 1 April 2020. The original prohibition was declared by the government under the Crisis Act. Unimportant as it may seem, this difference may, in our opinion, fundamentally change the view of the obstacles to work for employees of the affected shops/facilities. According to the governmental regulations’ current interpretations (as summarised here), which we, however, do not fully agree with, employees who cannot perform work as a result of these measures are classified into Regime B, i.e. obstacles to work under Section 208 of the Civil Code, and shall receive a 100% wage compensation from the employer.

However, it is to be noted that the Labour Code itself explicitly regulates the situation when employers are forced to shut down or limit their operations due to extraordinary measures: Section 347(4) stipulates that, beyond the definition of quarantine as per the Public Health Protection Act, for the purposes of the Labour Code, quarantine shall also mean extraordinary measures taken in an epidemic or under the threat of its occurrence pursuant to the Public Health Protection Act involving the prohibition or limitation of contact between groups of individuals suspected of being infected and other individuals, and the prohibition of or duty to perform certain other activities in dealing with an epidemic or the threat of its occurrence, provided that these prohibitions, limitations or duties prevent an employee from the performance of work. It is therefore possible that as a result of the extraordinary measures adopted by the Ministry of Health on Monday, for some employees of the affected operations at least the obstacles to work will be from now on (a possibility of retrospective reclassification is yet to be investigated) viewed as a quarantine under Regime A, rather than another obstacle to work under Regime B.

Carer’s allowance

On 19 March, the government passed a motion to change the rules concerning the entitlement to carer’s benefits during the extraordinary measures; we covered this in the previous special issue.

The bill has now been passed by the chamber of deputies with the following changes from the last covered version:

  • carer’s allowance will also be paid to those who care for an older, handicapped child attending a school;
  • two carers may alternate in caring, as needed. So far, two carers could only swap once. The draft mitigates this rule to better suit the extended time of drawing the allowance, i.e. for as long as the care for a child is necessary because of extraordinary measures adopted in an epidemic. Carers may now alternate in caring for a child, with an unlimited number and manner of such swaps.
     

The effect of extraordinary measures on occupational safety and health protection

Extraordinary measures also affect occupational safety and health protection; their most current effects are:

During the state of emergency, it is possible to substitute with an affidavit:

  • a health card under Section 19 (2) of the Public Health Protection Act
  • an assessment of a job applicant’s suitability under the Act on Specific Medial Services of employees whose employment originates after this measure has been announced.

Furthermore, during the state of emergency, it is not necessary to carry out periodical medical check-ups.

Other occupational medical checks-ups (mainly unscheduled examinations or exit medical assessments) and other occupational medical services should continue. However, it is advisable to contact the occupational medical services provider and check the conditions under which they operate during the extraordinary measures.

The Ministry of Health has also issued an opinion on providing employees with masks: it states that the employer is under no obligation to provide employees with masks or other forms of respiratory tract protection at the workplace. This means that sanctions for breaches of the duty to wear masks by employees should not be governed by the Labour Code, but by the Public Health Protection Act and the Crisis Act.

We are continuously monitoring the situation. If you have any questions, please contact us.

 

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