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The employer's guide to Covid-19 coronavirus issues in Slovakia

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Katarina Matulnikova

Counsel

Bratislava

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Nemethova Michaela
Michaela Nemethova

Junior Associate

Bratislava

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03 April 2020

In this article we answer 10 frequently asked questions for employers in connection with the Covid-19 coronavirus.

1. Can employees refuse to work due to fear of being infected?

No, if the employer implements satisfactory preventive measures.

Under Slovak health and safety regulation, the employees can refuse to work if they reasonably believe that there is immediate and severe threat of damage to their health or life. If the employer implemented measures enabling to reduce risk of infection (eg measuring temperature, distribution of face masks and protective gloves, special rules applicable to meal distribution and breaks), the employees shall carry on working. 

NOTE: The Slovak government approved some changes in the health and safety regulation, too. The new rules shall relieve employers from certain duties (eg notification duties in case of on-boarding new employees or transfer of the existing employees to a new workplace). The new rules are now subject to parliamentary approval. 

2. Are employers obliged to provide the employees at the workplace with hand sanitizers (disinfection) and face masks?

Depends, but likely yes.

The health and safety regulation sets out a generic obligation to take precautionary measures at the workplace, including, but not limited to, risk assessment, taking and implementing protective measures, giving instructions and information to employees. The following may be deemed as precautionary measures taken by employer: securing workplace with protective equipment (disinfectants and protective masks), limitation and/or total cancellation of business trips, agreement with employees on home office, ordering a medical examination, limiting personal meetings and negotiations and replacing them with teleconferences, etc.

3. Can employees stay at home if they have to take care of their children?

Yes, subject to certain conditions.

In Slovakia, all schools and kindergartens are closed. A parent (or one of the parents) unable to work due to taking care of child not older than 11 years (or 18 years in case of a child with adverse health conditions) can apply for special social security allowance. The entitlement lasts for the time when the schools and kindergartens are closed due to the quarantine and preventive measures and equals to 55% of the relevant daily assessment base stipulated by the social security legislation.

Employees unable to work due to taking care of a child during the crisis situation must inform their employers without undue delay. The employers must excuse absence from work and are not allowed to order work to such employees.

NOTE: The new rules approved by the Slovak government should set out special protection in relation to employment termination to employees taking care of a child or sick family member (including those employees who are in mandatory quarantine or self-isolation). The new rules are now subject to parliamentary approval. 

4. Can employers force employees to take holidays on a short notice?

No, unless the employees/employee representatives agree.

Employer is not entitled to order employees to take holidays on a short notice. Ordering holidays is subject to 14 days prior notice by the employer.  The 14-day period may be shortened with the employee's consent.

If the employee representatives operate in the employer, employer may agree with them on taking collective holiday. The ordered holiday cannot exceed 2 weeks.

During holiday, employers must pay wage compensation in the amount of their average earnings to their employees.

NOTE: Under the new rules approved by the Slovak government, the employers should be available to order holiday in the 7-day time period (or 2-day time period in case of undrawn holiday carried forward from the past years). The new rules are now subject to parliamentary approval. 

5. Can employers encourage or force employees to take sick leaves?

No.

Employers should not encourage or force employees to take sick leaves and can be penalised for such actions.

6. Are employees entitled to work during the mandatory quarantine?

Yes, unless on "sick leave" or unable to work remotely.

All persons with residence in Slovakia, living in Slovakia over 90 days, working in Slovakia who returned from abroad and individuals sharing household with them, are obliged to undergo 14 day mandatory quarantine in the designated facility for the time necessary to perform laboratory diagnosis of Covid-19 coronavirus or must self-isolate for such time. In addition, the individuals must liaise with their general practitioner/paediatrician in order to get confirmation on temporary incapacity to work (in Slovak: dočasná pracovná neschopnosť) due to the quarantine or the mandatory isolation. Employer cannot assign work to the incapacitated employees (due to quarantine or self-isolation). The employee is entitled to special social security allowance equalling to 55% of the relevant assessment base during the entire period of the ordered isolation or quarantine. The employer is not obliged to provide a wage compensation during such period.

If the employees can work remotely and are willing to work from the place of quarantine or home isolation, they can do so. The employer must pay salaries to the working employees. Employees are not entitled to the special social security allowance. 

NOTE: Under new rules approved by the Slovak government, the employers should be able to order employees to work from home. The new rules are now subject to parliamentary approval. 

7. What can employers do if they do not have work for employees or must temporarily interrupt the operation (due to governmental measures or preventive and quarantine measures)?

The most frequent measures include:

Salary and benefits cuts

The salaries may not be decreased unilaterally. An agreement with the concerned employee or with the trade union, if agreed in the Collective Agreement, is required.

Possibility to reduce or cancel the existing benefits depends on the regulation of a particular benefit. Thus, the terms and condition governing provision of a benefit shall be reviewed carefully. Generally:

  • benefits provided on the basis of the agreement with the employees (agreed in the employment agreement or other agreement) cannot be altered unilaterally, and
  • benefits provided on the basis of the internal regulation of the employer can be altered, provided the employer retained full discretion to decide on such benefits. The change shall be prospective, not retrospective.

When decreasing salaries and applying benefits cuts, the employer must make sure that it does not breach the principle of equal treatment of employees

Home office

If the nature of the work so allows, employees work from home. Such employees receive standard salary. Revision of the terms of employment of the employees working from home might be needed.

Leaving employees home with payment

If the home office is not possible, the employees stay home. The employer's inability to assign work to the employees is the obstacle to work attributable to the employer and the non-working employees are entitled to wage compensation equalling to 100% of their average earnings.

NOTE: Under the new rules approved by the Slovak government, the employers will be able to order employees to work up the time that they stayed home and received salary compensation. The time period and the hours to be worked up are restricted - maximum 400 hours can be requested to be worked up and the time during which the work shall be performed, is one year following the obstacle to work occurred. The new rules are now subject to parliamentary approval, thus the final shape of the rules is not available yet.  

Reduced salary triggered by serious operational reasons

The employers and the employee representatives can agree (in the form of a written agreement) on serious operational reasons (eg. sudden temporary decrease in sales of products or demand for products) for which the employer does not assign work to the employees and pays them wage compensation in the amount of at least 60% of their average earnings.

This measure cannot be implemented in employers with no employee representatives.

NOTE: The Slovak government approved the new rules allowing any businesses to unilaterally reduce payment to employees to 80% of their average earning or minimum wage, whatever is higher, if the employer is unable to assign work due to temporary business suspension triggered by state emergency. The new rules are now subject to parliamentary approval.  

Staff-reduction

 Within probation period, the employment can be terminated with immediate effect. The employers do not have to provide severance payment.

Fixed term employments terminate upon the lapse of the agreed time period, unless the employee continues to work following the agreed term.

The employer may implement redundancies, ie decide on cancellation of certain jobs and shrink its workforce by entering into mutual termination agreements or serving the termination notices. The employment terminates upon the lapse of a notice period, which varies between 1-3 months, depending on the length of service. The employees are entitled to a severance payment between 1-5 average earning, depending on the length of service and the termination instrument (mutual termination agreement or termination notice). If the employment is terminated with certain number of employees within 30 days, specific process of mass dismissal can be triggered. 

NOTE: The Slovak government intends to prevent lay-offs during and after the current crisis situation regarding Covid-19 coronavirus by providing financial contribution to maintain job positions to the employers. The particular conditions for applying for and granting this contribution are to be issued soon. 

Agreement with employees

 The employers and the employees can agree on other solutions with respect to their job (eg agreement on paid leave, agreement on unpaid leave).

8. What to do if, because of Covid-19 coronavirus, an employer has an increased demand for products or services and is understaffed?

Fixed term employment

The employer may temporarily hire new employees under a fixed term employment agreement, subject to certain conditions. Fixed term employment can be agreed for no more than 2 years and may be extended or repeatedly agreed no more than twice within the period of 2 years.

Temporary assignments

Subject to certain conditions, the employer may agree (in the form of a written agreement) with another employer or temporary employment agency on temporary assignment of employees. During the period of such temporary assignment, the host employer reimburses the home employer/agency for all costs associated with the employment of the relevant employees (including the salary of the assigned employees, which continues to be paid by the home employer/agency).

Agreements of work outside employment

 In exceptional cases, temporary agreements on work outside employment can be concluded. The volume of working hours is limited to 10 or 20 hours in a week or 350 hours in a calendar year.

9. Are employees living in the border regions entitled to come to the office located in Slovakia?

Yes.

Employees who are Slovak citizens and are living in the border regions (maximum 30 km from Slovak border) are entitled to cross the Slovak border and come to the office. The employees must provide the evidence of their employment relationship when crossing the border.

10. Can employers send employees on business trips?

No.

The borders of many countries are closed and the employees will likely be denied entry. In addition, upon return the employee will have to undergo mandatory quarantine. 

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