Have you lost your job due to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic? Did your employer order you to stay at home without pay? Are you compelled to work under unsafe working conditions?
If you relate to any of the above or similar situations, then you might find our new article interesting and useful. We @maskzofsweden in our previous articles, had been analyzing working conditions after COVID-19, significance of PPE, and what preventative measures should be adopted during the coronavirus outbreak.
Now, it's important to see the current situation from a legal perspective. As COVID-19 has badly affected the world of work. It has disrupted the lives and livelihood of billions of workers across the globe. Employees are being dismissed by employers, working hours have been reduced, workers are not being compensated for sick leave or quarantine period, employees are compelled to work under dangerous working conditions and they are being fired for refusal to work at unsafe workplaces.
You think it's unfair? SO being an employee, don’t you want to know your legal rights at work, and exactly when you are entitled to exercise those rights? If yes, then continue reading, because we are going to analyze four most common situations employees have been facing since the rise of COVID-19 outbreak and shall try to figure out whether you are entitled to get protection from the law or not!
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AT WORK #COVID-19 OUTBREAK!
LEGAL QUESTION #1
COULD YOUR EMPLOYER TERMINATE YOU; FOR YOUR ABSENCE FROM WORK OR DUE TO ECONOMIC IMPACT OF COVID-19 OUTBREAK?
As due to the Coronavirus outbreak, there has been a reduction in workload, staff shortages and change in the work environment. Employers might be in a situation where they have to shut off certain positions. If you think your employer fired you unjustifiably, then the next guidelines would help you to assess your particular situation.
SITUATION- An employee might need to take a leave from work to take care of the children due to school closure during COVID-19 outbreak. Similarly, Employees who suffer from health issues or disabilities might use absent leave, as it could be life-taking if they contract with coronavirus.
LEGAL PROTECTION- In such circumstances, you have no other option except to stay at home. But this is all temporary, and such temporary absence from work due to illness, or family responsibilities do not constitute valid reasons for termination of employment, and therefore you are entitled to get legal protection.
SITUATION Another reason for termination could be the economic impact of COVID-19. For example, shortage of staff for lower paid jobs like receptionists, waiters, or factory workers etc. The employer might be compelled to dismiss in such circumstances.
LEGAL PROTECTION- However, due to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 outbreak, the employer might need to dismiss you, and this might be considered as a reasonable ground for termination.
RECOMMENDATION- As a basic principle, an employer should not dismiss an employee in the absence of unreasonable or valid grounds. The termination should be connected with the capacity or conduct of the employee, not on temporary reasons.
WHAT’S NEXT? But you might be thinking that how is it justified for employees to get fired for no fault on their part? But here comes one solution under law- the employees are entitled to receive unemployment benefits whose earnings are suspended as a result of termination, which might be subject to certain conditions. Recommendation- Under ILO Standards, an Employer contemplating terminations for economic reasons should offer social security and social assistance to employees and help in finding an alternative employment.
LEGAL QUESTION #2
ARE YOU FORCED TO STAY HOME WITHOUT BEING COMPENSATED?
SITUATION-What if you are forced to stay at home and work remotely, even though you are willing to work at the office. In such a situation, your employer is able to do that, and if you refuse to work from home then you might be violating rules. But what if the employer sends you home without pay.
LEGAL PROTECTION- But if your employer decides to send you home without pay, this gives rise to a potential claim for unlawful deduction of wages. The reason is that you are willing to work at the office, and sending you home has been decided by your employer, so he is obliged to pay accordingly.
LEGAL QUESTION #3
ARE YOU ENTITLED TO REFUSE TO WORK DURING COVID-19?
SITUATION-You might be hesitant to travel using public transport, perform work at a jobsite, or you might be afraid of contracting coronavirus at your workplace. Your worry is natural, but the question is if you can refuse to come to work if your employer is not convinced. If you still do that your employer might take disciplinary action against you for
violating its attendance policy, or even fire you for violation of rules. However, Occupational Health and Safety rules (OSH) provide employees the protection of right to refusal under limited circumstances. But there are conditions which need to be met to enjoy the right to refusal to work.
CONDITION FOR EXERCISING RIGHT TO REFUSAL-
(i) Your refusal to come to work can be legally justified if you have reasonable justification to believe that it presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health, made in good faith, which is evaluated based on objective standards of reasonableness, under your specific circumstances. (ii) In order to get the protection of good faith right to refusal, you need to talk to your employer about the unsafe and hazardous conditions at your workplace.
LEGAL PROTECTION- If your employer does not take any corrective measures regarding your concerns, or take any necessary steps to make the workplace safe such as no measures for social distancing were being taken, handwashing facilities are not available, or if someone from your staff was reportedly infected with coronavirus at the workplace, In such a situation, employees will be protected from any undue consequences of the decision and will be allowed to remove themselves from unsafe workplace.
TO GIVE YOU BETTER UNDERSTANDING, Let's take an example, an employee at hospital has serious concerns of getting infected with coronavirus as some infected patients were admitted to other departments of the hospital. Employees ask the hospital to provide them with PPE, but the hospital was unable to fulfill the request as PPE supplies are out of stock. But the question is whether the employees in this particular situation can exercise their right to refuse to work or not, or if the hospital can be considered as dangerous. Logically, and from a legal point of view, the answer should be No, because the employees are not directly dealing with infected patients. The evaluation is always made keeping in view the particular facts of each case.
RECOMMENDATION- Employers should make all reasonable attempts and take measures to address employee’s concerns. Employers should talk to them individually, before disciplining or firing them for refusal to work.
LEGAL QUESTION #4
ARE YOU ENTITLED TO GET COMPENSATION IF YOU GET INFECTED WITH COVID-19 AT WORKPLACE?
When an employee gets infected with coronavirus at the workplace, would that illness be considered as work related disease, occupational injury or work accident?
LEGAL PROTECTION- Where employees get sick by COVID-19 as a result of their work, could amount to employment injury and must be compensated accordingly. The employees are entitled to health care, leave from work, cash benefits, or salary. Such injuries include industrial accidents and occupational disease. Similarly, you are entitled to get compensation for the Quarantine. If your salary is suspended, you are entitled to get sickness cash benefit.
We MaskZ of Sweden have based our analysis on rules and principles provided under International legal instruments for workers such as ILO Standards (International Labour Organization), or OSH (Occupational Safety and Health). Also, we have applied rules provided under Conventions of International Labour Organization, (ILO) which are legally binding upon its signatory countries. Most countries of the World are signatories of ILO and OSH. The Member countries who ratify the Conventions issued by ILO Standard are thereafter obliged to apply its rules into their country laws.
The 1995 General Survey concerning Unjustified Dismissal, paras. 136-142https://www.ilo.org/public/libdoc/ilo/P/09661/09661(1995-82-4B).pdf and Art. 8 of the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156). https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C156
Termination of Employment Convention, 1982 (No. 158). https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C158 The Employment Injury Benefits Convention, 1964 (No.121) https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C121 The Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No.102) https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C102 The Protection of wages Convention 1949 (No 95) https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312240:NO (Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C155 The most frequent legal questions about the COVID-19 pandemic https://www2.deloitte.com/cz/en/pages/legal/articles/the-most-frequent-legal-questions-about-the-COVID-19-pande mic.html# ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---normes/documents/genericdocument/wcms_739937.pdf Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102)
https://socialprotection-humanrights.org/instru/social-security-minimum-standards-convention-no-102-1952 Coronavirus - what should employers do now?https://www.lewissilkin.com/en/insights/coronavirus---what-should-employers-do-now