Coronavirus – new challenge for employers

The spreading of the coronavirus infection puts companies in a difficult position. HR specialists in particular worry about how to effectively protect employees while keeping their business in operation. The situation is further complicated by the spring-term holidays and employees returning from affected regions, as well as by growing panic. How to proceed, then?

Above all, it is advisable to monitor the current situation and recommendations issued by the authorities, and to keep employees informed – in particular about proper hygiene and sanitation practices to lower the risk of infection, the symptoms of the disease, and any high-risk areas.   Employees should also be informed about how to proceed if symptoms occur or if they have returned from problematic locations. As part of preventive measures, employers should provide workplaces with disinfectants and recommended protective gear, and limit business travel abroad to a necessary minimum. Finally, employers should communicate with trade union representatives, works councils and OSH (occupational safety and health) representatives, if in place.

It is also appropriate to consult the situation with a medical service provider, namely to agree in advance how to proceed if any employee shows the symptoms of the disease, has been in contact with an infected person or has returned from high-risk locations. Generally, if an employer has doubts as to an employee’s capacity to work, they may send them for a medical check-up. However, many physicians have now adopted special measures to limit the spreading of the virus in patients’ waiting rooms – and employers should therefore find out about any such measures adopted by their medical services provider. It is also recommendable to consult with a medical professional what other preventative measures to take.

If an employee is displaying infection symptoms, especially if they’ve just returned from an affected region or may have been in contact with an infected person, the employer should demand they consult their medical condition with a physician without delay. If the physician finds the employee temporarily incapable to work or orders a quarantine, this constitutes an obstacle to work on the part of the employee, with entitlement to wage compensation in the amount of 60% of average earnings.

For professions that can be carried out using remote access, working from home may be a way to isolate employees from their colleagues. Working from home, however, cannot be ordered: the employee must consent to work outside their regular workplace; the same applies to unpaid leave of absence. Another solution is to order such an employee to take a vacation – however, under the Labour Code, the employee must be notified to take a vacation at least 14 days in advance, unless they consent to a shorter notice period. Cases that do not involve the temporary incapacity to work, quarantine or home office, with the employer simply not allowing employees to work at their workplace for preventative reasons, shall be viewed as an obstacle to work on the employer’s part, with full wage compensation.

Should such preventive measures lead to a high absence rate, employers cannot but mobilise their remaining workforce. For instance: adjust shift and vacation schedules (which, however must be done at least two weeks in advance, unless a shorter period has been agreed with employees) or order employees to work overtime (within the limits stipulated by law). If it becomes necessary to rescind already approved vacations, the employer must compensate the employee for any costs incurred.

The spreading of the infection also complicates employing foreigners. Since the beginning of February, the Czech embassy in Beijing and the general consulates in Shanghai, Chengdu and Hong-Kong have suspended accepting applications for visas and residency permits, conducting the relevant proceedings, and issuing decisions, including granting visas. This prevents the filing of new applications for permits, as well as the issuance of decisions on applications previously filed. The Czech embassies in China now only allow the filing of applications for short-term visas for family members of Czech citizens. And it is possible that the measures will tighten even more: for instance, the same prohibition may be extended to other countries, or the approval of applications will be conditional upon producing a certificate of being virus-free.

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