Global: Coronavirus COVID-19 Daily Update for Employers

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March 23 Update

Australia 

The Government has put in place measures which restrict the following facilities from opening from midday local time on Monday 23 March:

  • pubs, registered and licenced clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation);
  • gyms and indoor sporting venues;
  • cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs;
  • restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery; and
  • religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies).

In NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and NT, schools remain open and it is up to the parents to decide whether to send children to school. In Victoria and the ACT, schools are closed from the end of Monday for school holidays, one week earlier than previously anticipated.

The Australian government has also introduced a second stimulus package worth approximately $66 billion, which includes measures such as:

  • eligible income support recipients receiving $550 each fortnight as a coronavirus supplement.  This is available to those who have been made redundant and to those who have been stood down, provided they satisfy standard eligibility requirements;
  • the wage subsidy for small businesses (being businesses with turnover less than $50 million) increasing to a maximum cash refund payment of $100,000. The tax-free payment is worth 100% of the tax that small and medium-sized businesses withhold from their employees’ salary and wages up to a maximum amount of $100,000; and
  • loan guarantees for businesses with turnover less than $50 million, where the government will guarantee 50% of an eligible loan through participating banks and non-bank lenders to businesses disrupted. Loans will be used for working capital purposes and be unsecured and it will be for loans granted within six months starting 1 April 2020.

The Government has implemented measures allowing individuals in “financial stress” due to the Coronavirus (including those made redundant, and those who have had their hours of work cut by more than 20%) to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21.

Austria 

New developments due to the latest legal changes: 

Short-time work: Short-time work can now also be applied to apprentices and managers who are socially insured under the ASVG. Short-time work is thus possible for all employees, including executives, apprentices and ASVG-insured managing directors. – The only exceptions (as things stand at present) are GSVG-insured managing directors and board members, marginally employed and freelancers.  The application form has now also been updated and can be downloaded from the AMS homepage.  Together with the social partner agreement and a brief explanation of why this measure is necessary, this must be submitted to the responsible AMS regional office by e-mail. The application can be submitted retroactively for a period starting on 1 March 2020. 

In order to calculate the amount of the short-time work allowance, the AMS has provided an online calculator available here.  

Employment prohibition:  There is still no general employment prohibition in Austria. Only employees who can also do their work from home via telework are to be allowed to work from home. If the work can only be done at the workplace, this is still possible, where the business is not shut down by the government due to measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 (e.g. shops, bars, restaurants, etc). However, the employer must take appropriate precautions to minimize the risk of infection and to ensure that a certain minimum distance (at least 1 meter) is maintained between employees.

Holiday usage:  If employees are unable to perform their work due to measures based on the COVID-19-Maßnahmengesetz (prohibition or restriction of the access to businesses), at the request of the employer, vacation and working-time credits must be used up to a maximum of 8 weeks – however, vacation claims from the current vacation year must only be consumed up to an amount of 2 weeks.   The employer therefore now has the possibility to unilaterally order the consumption of vacation and working time credits in the above-mentioned cases.

Company employee representatives: The period of activity of works councils or other company-based employee representatives as well as of persons representing the interests of disabled persons whose period of activity ends between 16 March and 30 April 2020 shall be extended until the corresponding body is constituted, which shall be elected after 30 April 2020 in compliance with the relevant deadlines.

Special care period: If schools and childcare facilities are closed and employees are not entitled to time off work to care for the child, a special care period of up to 3 weeks can be agreed. In this respect, employers are entitled to reimbursement of one third of the remuneration paid to the respective employee (capped with the maximum contribution basis – thus EUR 5,370.- gross). This now also applies in cases in which there is a duty to care for disabled persons who are cared for and taught in an institution for the disabled or an educational institution for disabled persons and this institution has now been closed.

The employer’s application for reimbursement must be submitted to the Federal Accounting Agency within 6 weeks after the official measures have been lifted.

Forfeiture periods and period for contesting dismissals: The expiry of limitation and forfeiture periods relating to labour law claims which have already started to run before 16 March or which have started to run after 16 March shall be suspended until 30 April 2020.  The same applies to the periods for contesting dismissals in court – their expiry is also suspended until 30 April 2020.

Belgium

Introduction of a simplified “coronaprocedure” to apply for temporary unemployment: Employers can have recourse to temporary unemployment, i.e. temporary suspension of the employment contract of employees during which there is no obligation to pay normal salary for employers, but employees would instead receive unemployment allowances paid by the ONEM/RVA (the Belgian national employment agency).

Since the coronavirus outbreak, the ONEM/RVA has had to cope with a huge amount of applications for these temporary unemployment regimes, causing substantial delays in processing all applications.  To tackle this issue, on 20 March 2020 the Belgian Federal Government opened up a new so-called “coronaprocedure” to apply for temporary unemployment.

Under this new coronaprocedure, all situations in which work cannot be performed due to the virus outbreak, for whatever reason and regardless of the employee category (blue-collar or white-collar) will upon notification to the ONEM/RVA automatically be recognized as temporary unemployment, without being required to submit a justification file as before under the regimes of temporary unemployment for force majeure or economic reasons (see our previous update).

The coronaprocedure only applies temporarily, during the quarantine measures imposed by the Federal Government which currently apply until 5 April inclusive (but could be extended if deemed necessary by the authorities).

After the end of the quarantine measures, employers will still have recourse to temporary unemployment by following the “regular procedures”, i.e. for economic reasons, or for force majeure (conditions and application process differs depending on the type of unemployment – see our previous update for further detail on these procedures).

The Federal Government has taken the following support measures for employees/companies:

  • Families that have been impacted financially by the corona-virus can request a postponement of the payment of their mortgage until September. Companies can also request a postponement of the payment of any loans they have concluded until September.
  • Self-employed people can request a delay in payment of one year of the due social security contributions for the first and second quarter of 2020.
  • A postponement of the income tax, company tax, legal entities tax, and non-resident tax declaration of two months for self-employed and employees.
  • All companies with outstanding debts vis-à-vis the National Office of Social Security, VAT, income tax, company tax, can request a payment plan (e.g. agreeing to delay of payment deadline, payment instalments, etc.).
  • Companies and self-employed who have financial issues due to the corona measures can also request a bridging loan for existing debts.

The Flemish Government is implementing additional measures:

  • For companies with offices in the Flanders region: a premium of 4.000 EUR (in case of full closure) will be provided for companies that are obliged to close due to the corona-virus. If the company needs to remain closed after 21 days, an indemnity of 160 EUR per day will be provided. If a company is only forced to close during the weekend, a one-off premium of 2.000 EUR will be provided. If the company needs to remain closed after 21 days, an indemnity of 160 EUR per day is provided.
  • For employees on temporary unemployment who reside in the Flanders region: the payment of 202,67 EUR to employees who are temporary unemployed to ensure that the water and utility bills for one month are covered.
Brazil 

President Bolsonaro issued Provisional Measure 927 on March 22.  This brings greater flexibility for employers and aims to avoid massive terminations. The Measure is already in force but shall be voted on by the Congress within 120 days.  The main changes are:

  • Home working without previous agreement is allowed.   A written contract shall be made to provide work conditions and expenses that shall be reimbursed by the employer (phone, internet). The employee may be requested to work on site again after the pandemic 
  • Vacations may be granted as long as the employer gives 48 hours’ notice to the employee; Employees considered in the risk group will have priority for vacations 
  • Collective vacations are allowed – no need to send a prior notice to the union representatives 
  • FGTS deposits are suspended.  Such payments shall be made as of July 
  • Bank of hours to compensate the hours not worked during the pandemic period. Such hours shall be compensated during the next 18 months counting from the end of the pandemic period. 

The governor of the State of São Paulo declared state of emergency in all cities in the State. All public services shall be suspended and restaurants, companies and offices shall be closed from March 24. The exception is for essential services (drugstores, supermarkets). Quarantine was determined for the next 15 days.

Canada 

Federal: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has provided guidance regarding privacy matters arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, recognizing that “During a public health crisis, privacy laws still apply, but they are not a barrier to appropriate information sharing.“

Ontario:  The government has today announced that all non-essential businesses must close as of 11:59 pm on March 24.  All limitation periods and court filing deadlines have been suspended until further notice. Hospitals have been given powers to temporarily supersede provisions of collective agreements for hospital workers.  Effective March 19, 2020, revisions to the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 were made to provide for an unpaid leave of absence for infectious diseases.  More information available here.   

British Colombia: All bars and restaurants have been ordered to move to a take-out or delivery model, or to close.  The following personal service establishments have been ordered to close: nail salons, tattoo parlours, barbershops, beauty parlours, health spas and massage parlours to close

Quebec:  The provincial government has created a temporary aid package allowing businesses to apply for loans of more than $50,000 if they can show temporary cash flow issues due to COVID-19.  All restaurant dining rooms and malls have been ordered to be closed.  Gatherings of 2 or more people are now banned, except families of more than 2 people may gather in their homes, plumbers and electricians can go into people’s homes, and certain workplaces and public transit will continue to operate.

Manitoba: Declared a state of emergency in the province, effective March 20, 202

New Brunswick: Declared a state of emergency in the province, effective March 19, 2020

Newfoundland and Labrador: Declared a public health emergency in the province, effective March 18, 2020

Nova Scotia: Declared a state of emergency in the province on March 22, 2020

Prince Edward Island: Declared a public health emergency in the province, effective March 16, 2020

Saskatchewan: Declared a state of emergency in the province, effective March 18, 2020

Northwest Territories: Declared a public health emergency, effective March 18, 2020

Nunavut: Declared a public health emergency, effective March 20, 2020

Yukon: Declared a public health emergency, effective March 18, 2020   

Saskatchewan: The Saskatchewan Employment Act has been amended to provide that, during a public emergency period, employees on layoff will not trigger a deemed termination until they have been laid off for a period of 12 weeks within a 16 week period.   The Saskatchewan Employment Act has been amended to include an unpaid public emergency leave of up to 13 weeks

China 

From March 23, all international flights destined for Beijing will enter into China via airports in 12 other cities first, i.e. Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, Hohhot, Shanghai, Jinan, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shenyang, Dalian, Zhengzhou or Xi ‘an. After completing a coronavirus test in one of these cities, passengers who test negative and pass custom checks, may take their original flight to Beijing.

Colombia 

The President of Colombia announced on national TV a national mandatory curfew for 19 consecutive days starting from March 25.   

The Ministry of Labor issued Resolution 803 of 2020 that states that only the Ministry of Labor as a national authority, can consider requests for mass layoffs.

The President is considering to authorize the withdrawal of the annual severance payment (auxilio de cesantía) for those employees who go on unpaid leave.

The Government created the Emergency Mitigation Fund (Fondo de Mitigación de Emergencias).  One of the purposes of this Fund is that in order to guarantee the continuity of those businesses that provide services of national interest, the National Government may invest in equity and/or debt instruments issued by private or public entities.

Decree 091 March 22, 2020 allows telecommuting of the personnel from public and private companies who are strictly responsible for the payment of social security, salary payments, home office support, or any need that is essential to guarantee employers and contractors to continue performing their activities. 

Finland

The Finnish labour and trade unions proposed several temporary measures to help businesses in the corona crisis. On Friday 20 March 2020, the Finnish Government approved most of the proposed measures. Currently, the measures are in force for a fixed-term of three months. Some of the proposed measures require changes to the current legislation and the normal legislative process will apply, which may take up to several weeks. Among others, the following measures were approved by the Finnish Government:

  • Temporarily reducing the private sector employers’ pension contribution by 2.6 percentage points.
  • Deferring TyEL insurance payments for three months.
  • Reducing the minimum negotiation times in a co-operation procedure from the current 14 days and 6 weeks to 5 days.
  • Extending the right to lay off to fixed-term employment contracts.
  • Reducing the lay-off notice period from 14 days to 5 days.
  • Clarifying the option to lay off employees before the conclusion of co-determination negotiations.
  • Allowing the cancellation of an employment contract during a trial period for financial and production-related reasons.  
  • Extending the obligation to re-employ to 9 months if the employee has been dismissed during the fixed-term changes of the labour law.
  • Cancelling the unemployment security deductible period. Layoff periods are not counted towards the maximum period of unemployment security. Entitling employees to daily unemployment allowance even in the case of agreed lay-off.
  • Shorten the employment condition relating to unemployment benefits to 13 weeks for an employment that has commenced on 1 January 2020 or after.
France 

An emergency bill to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic was passed yesterday but has not yet been published.  By means of Executive Orders, the Government will be able, on the basis of this bill and within three months, to implement new provisions notably on:

  • Partial activity (extend the use of partial activity to new categories of beneficiaries, increase the number of hours that can be compensated for employees and reduce the remaining amount paid by the employer, etc.)
  • Paid holidays:
    • to allow an in-house or branch collective agreement to authorize the employer to impose or modify the dates on which part of the paid leave is to be taken, up to a limit of six working days;  
    • to allow any employer to unilaterally impose or modify the dates of reduced working hours (RTT), days off granted in the context of “forfait jours” schemes, and rest days allocated to the employee’s time-saving account
  • Working hours (providing derogation from the rules of public order and/or the provisions of collective agreements concerning working hours, weekly or Sunday rest.)
  • Employee savings (modify the deadlines and terms of payment of the premiums under the voluntary and mandatory profit-sharing schemes)
  • Adapt the arrangements for monitoring the health of employees (deferring medical visits in order to prioritize the monitoring of the health of employees whose activity is essential to the continuity of the nation’s life)
  • Measures relating to the exercise of the CSE missions (adapt the CSE information and consultation procedures, in particular by facilitating the use of remote consultation tools such as videoconferencing)
Hong Kong 

Travel Ban on Non-Hong Kong Residents:  Today, the Hong Kong Government announced that it will ban non-Hong Kong residents coming from overseas countries or territories arriving at the airport from entering Hong Kong for 14 days starting from 25 March.

Non-Hong Kong residents arriving in Hong Kong from Mainland China, Macau and Taiwan who have been to overseas countries or territories in the past 14 days will also be banned from entering. Those who have not been to overseas countries or territories in the past 14 days may enter Hong Kong but will be subject to quarantine orders for 14 days.

Proposed Ban on Sale of Alcohol: Today, the Government also announced that it intends to prohibit the sale of alcohol in restaurants, bars and clubs.  The exact details and scope of the proposed ban have not been confirmed, but the Government has said it would impact around 8,600 establishments.  The Government has not given a targeted effective date but said that the ban would be implemented “swiftly”.

Closure of Government Offices: Yesterday, various Government departments announced that they will be closed for varying periods of time in response to the recent new wave of COVID-19 cases. The Immigration Department will provide limited services from 23 March including for urgent application and collection of Hong Kong travel documents, replacement of identity cards and first registration of identity cards for new arrivals to Hong Kong, application of foreign domestic helpers’ visa and extension of stay.

The Judiciary announced that the General Adjourned Period, which has been in effect since 29 January, will be extended for two weeks until 5 April.

No court hearings will be held except for fresh remand cases at the Magistrates’ Courts. The courts may continue to deal with cases on paper if the presiding Judge or Judicial Officer considers them to be urgent and essential court business.

Court hearings originally scheduled for 24 March to 5 April will be adjourned and will not be held unless they are urgent and essential as directed by the court. 

Government Relief Programmes: The Hong Kong government has announced a HK$30 billion relief package to combat the impact of COVID-19. The exact details of the measures have yet to be announced, but they appear to be available only for businesses in the following sectors/groups:

  • retail
  • food and drink service providers
  • transport companies
  • students
  • arts and culture
  • guest houses; and
  • travel agents. 

Of the HK$30 billion, it is not clear how much has been ringfenced for guest houses and food/drink service providers. We can provide further updates when details of the measures have been announced.

Hungary 

The following announcements were made with respect to measures regarding COVID-19 on March 23, 2020:

  • Exemption for small enterprises from the obligation to pay contributions, and exemption from the small-enterprises tax if incurred before March 1, 2020. Exemptions are for the term of state of danger;
  • Evictions and seizures are suspended for the term of state of danger;
  • The collection of tax debts is suspended for the term of state of danger;
  • The entitlements for child-care fee, child-care allowance expiring under the term of the state of danger are prolonged until the end of said term.
India 

Due to the impact of Covid-19 on business, a few companies have reduced / are making arrangements to reduce workforce headcount and/or the salaries of employees.  The Ministry of Labour and Employment issued an Advisory to be circulated employers of all public and private establishments under which it is requested that employers of public / private establishments to extend their cooperation by

  • not terminating employments, particularly of casual or contractual workers
  • not reducing their salaries
  • deeming an employee to be on duty, in case she/he takes leave or if the establishment is made non-operational due to Covid-19.

This is an Advisory so not mandatory to be followed by employers.

While not confirmed through any official notification, a few newspapers have reported that the government is planning on providing unemployment benefits to a section of organised workers who may lose their jobs due to Covid-19.  Currently, employees in India are not entitled to receive any unemployment insurance / benefits from the government.

Gurugram (Haryana): The District Magistrate has ordered (DM’s Order) a complete shutdown of all private corporate establishments and factories till 31 March 2020 (except essential services which includes media, medical centres, banking services, telephone and internet services, rail and transportation services, e-commerce of all essential goods (groceries, medical equipment, etc.) and production, transportation and supply chains of the same, IT / ITES and data centres needed for continuity of IT Services to the essential service providers, etc).  The DM’s Order also permits factories and commercial entities to have security and fire-fighting personnel on-site. Given that the DM’s Order has been issued under the powers granted to the State Government under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, it would be mandatory to comply with the directions issued under it (failing which there could be penal sanctions).

Karnataka: The Government has issued an advisory to all IT and Biotech companies in in the State to, inter-alia, observe work from home (except for employees working on ‘mission critical and essential services’), have in place a self-regulatory mechanism to allow working from home, practice social distancing, maintain hygiene, to put business travel plans on hold, replace face-to-face meetings with video conferencing, etc. As this is structured as an advisory, the same is not mandatory to be followed by employers.

Gujarat: The Government has ordered lockdown in the territorial jurisdiction of 5 cities – Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, and Gandhinagar. However, this order is not applicable to certain essential-service providers, such as – groceries stores, hospitals and medical stores, telephone and internet services, rail and transportation services, IT/ITES and data centres needed for continuity of IT Services to the essential service providers, etc. An English version of this order is unavailable. This order on complete lockdown is applicable till 25 March 2020.

Rajasthan: The Department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare has ordered a complete lockdown of all public and private establishments. However, this order is not applicable to certain essential services like health and welfare, drinking water, IT services, etc. An English version of this order is unavailable. This order on complete lockdown is applicable till 31 March 2020.

Karnataka: The Director of Health and Family Welfare Services has ordered – (a) closure of all shops, commercial establishments, workshops, go-downs dealing with non-essential services; (b) labour-intensive industries to operate at 50% staff-levels, on rotation basis and after ensuring social distancing; and (c) all IT and Biotech units to WFH, except for staff dealing with critical and essential services. This order (issued under the EDA and other laws / regulations) shall remain in effect from 23 March 2020 till the midnight of 1 April 2020. However, essential services such as – food, ration shops, water, bank, telecom, electricity, etc., are excluded from the purview of the restrictions under the order.

Haryana: The Health and Family Welfare Department ordered (HDO) a complete lockdown in the territorial jurisdiction of revenue districts of Gurugram, Faridabad, Sonipat, Panipat, Jhajjar, Rohtak, and Panchkula from 22 March 2020 till 31 March 2020. Under the HDO, all shops, commercial establishments, offices and factories, workshops, go-downs etc., shall close their operations. However, this would not cover ‘essential services’ or private establishments providing such services, or which are linked to the containment efforts of Covid-19.   For reference, ‘essential services’ has been defined to include, inter-alia – electricity, water, bank, food, groceries, hospitals, medical stores, telecom and internet services, etc. 

National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi: The the Health and Family Welfare Department has ordered (NCT Order) a lockdown in the whole territory of NCT from 23 March 2020 till 31 March 2020. In the NCT Order, all shops, offices, weekly bazaars, commercial establishments, factories, workshops, go-downs, etc., have been directed to close their operations. However, certain services / establishments such as electricity, health, water, telecom, internet and postal services etc., are excluded from the applicability of the NCT Order.

The NCT Order also requires all persons to stay at home and to come out only for availing basic services within the vicinities of their homes. In this regard, the NCT Order provides that employees of private establishments (including contractual and temporary workers) who are required to stay at home as per the said Order shall be deemed to be ‘on-duty’ and be paid in full.

Jharkhand: The Department of Health, Medical Education & Family Welfare has announced a complete lockdown till 31 March 2020. As per this order all shops, commercial establishments, offices and factories, workshop, go-downs, weekly bazaars etc., shall close their operations. However, essential services like electricity, health, water, telecom, internet and postal services etc, are excluded from the applicability of this order. An English version of this order is unavailable.

Ireland 

New COVID-19 measures for immigration and travel: 

  1. Travel Restrictions: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises against all non-essential travel overseas until at least until 29 March 2020.  This includes Britain but does not apply to Northern Ireland. The Irish Health Authorities require anyone coming into Ireland to restrict their movements on arrival for 14 days.  This rule does not apply to individual returning to Ireland from Northern Ireland or any essential supply chain workers, such as pilots and maritime staff.
  2. Automatic Extension of Immigration Permissions: The Government has announced that it will automatically renew any immigration or international protection permissions to reside in the State that are due to expire between 20 March 2020 and 20 May 2020 for a period of 2 months.  The renewal of these permissions will be on the same basis as the existing permission and the same conditions attach.  In relation to persons with existing permission under Directive 2004/38/EC (Free Movement Directive), the automatic renewal is subject to the requirement that the person is complying with the requirements of the Directive.
  3. New permit applications: The Government has also announced its decision to temporarily cease accepting new visa applications as part of the combined efforts to tackle COVID-19. The measure took effect from close of business last Friday.  While it will still be possible to apply for an Irish visa online in the normal manner, these temporary measures mean that applicants will not be able to complete their application.  Any application made online will remain valid until the restrictions are lifted.  Certain priority/emergency cases will continue to be processed and may be applied for online in the usual way (e.g. emergency visas for medical professionals).
Italy 

Today a new Presidential Decree has been published in Italy to adopt measures aimed at further containing the spread of the COVID-19.  According to the Decree, starting from March 23 and until April 3, there is an obligation to suspend all production and commercial activities.

The suspension does not apply in the following cases:

  • industrial and commercial companies operating in certain specific fields (according to a chart attached to the Decree);
  • professional activities;
  • activities that provide utilities and essential services;
  • production, transportation, marketing and delivery of drugs, healthcare technology and medical-surgical devices;
  • production, transport and marketing and delivery of agricultural food products;
  • activities related to the chains authorized to continue production;
  • continuous production cycle plants;
  • aerospace and defense industry activities; other activities of strategic importance for the national economy.

All suspended production activities must follow the following rules:

  • they can continue, provided that they are organized remotely (working from home modality – smart working)
  • they can complete the tasks necessary for suspension up to March 25, 2020 and they can send the goods in stock
Mexico 

Starting March 23, the federal government has closed non-essential activities as part of the Social Distancing Program. The period of closure runs from March 23 through April 20.   

The Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health have also issued a Guide for Employers and Employees (in Spanish).   

Morocco 

As of Friday 20 March at 6 pm, a health emergency status was put in place in Morocco. This means that circulation is restricted and employees can only attend the workplace with a document signed by the employer.

The Ministry of Labor has also issued a guide for employees and employers around handling issues such as reduced working hours, sick leaves, holidays, etc.  We will post an English version shortly.   

Poland 

The Polish Government has announced details of the anti-crisis package including the Act on Special Arrangements for the Protection of Jobs.  This is still in draft law, but may come into force next week.   The bill includes new rules on agreeing temporary stoppages/ reductions of working time with employees and state support for employers for salary payments, changes in the rules on medical check-ups for employees, extended time limits for work permit applications and greater flexibility on working time limits.  Read our full report here. 

Portugal 

Following the declaration of state of emergency, Decree no. 2-A/2020 was published, comprising several measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  Among other rules, citizens are now subject to a general duty of isolation, being permitted to circulate on public roads to buy essential goods and attend work only, teleworking is now mandatory (if possible) and companies in the retail sector (excluding those selling essential goods) and pursuing recreational and cultural activities (e.g. clubs, theatres, restaurants, gyms) have been forced to close. Establishments that remain open to the public must observe specific hygiene and safety measures (e.g. min. distance of 2 meters between two people).

Puerto Rico 

The Governor of Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency on March 12, 2020 and, on March 15, ordered a general lockdown from March 16 to March 30.  In essence, no one can be out of their homes.  From 5am to 9pm, citizens may get essential goods at supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations; buy food only through drive-thru, carry-out or delivery; receive medical services; make payments, deposits or withdrawals at financial institutions, pick up someone at the airport and transport the elderly or people with disabilities in need of care. From 9pm to 5am, people can only go out in case of an emergency.

Employees performing essential functions to provide the services described above, as well as public and private security officers, garbage management and cleaning personnel, personnel maintaining the electricity, water and communications infrastructure, and transportation providers are allowed to attend their workplaces. This includes employees of suppliers that provide eligible services to exempt industries, pursuant to the terms of Circular Letter No. 2020-02 of the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce.  Non-exempted businesses that require their employees to show up at work are subject to a $5,000 fine for each violation; individuals also face six months of prison. The Government is also considering regulations to cancel these businesses’ operating licenses for non-compliance.

Cruise ports are closed since March 14. The airports are operating as usual, and passengers started to be questioned and tested for temperature when arriving to the Island on March 18. The Governor has asked the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to suspend all domestic and international flights for 14 days, but the request is still pending. Given that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States of America, US travel bans (China, Iran, Europe) apply. Subject to the above, each business should determine travel restrictions for its employees, such as cancelling non-essential business travel and requiring a two-week self-quarantine after returning from business or personal travel.

For employers that are allowed to open for business, they are required to provide a safe work environment, free of health hazards. The US Center for Disease Control and PR Labor Department recommendations are to promote teleworking, stagger shifts, avoid work in groups and provide protection, such as gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, as well as requiring employees to stay home if they feel sick. Given that a pandemic has been declared, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines on the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act apply and allow employers to ask employees if they have COVID-19 symptoms and take their temperature; any medical information from employees must be kept confidential. A medical certification may be required to return to work after the employee has experienced COVID-19 symptoms.  

US federal labor regulations generally apply in Puerto Rico. Employers in Puerto Rico should pay attention to the bills requiring providing leaves to employees in exchange for tax benefits to employers that have been recently approved or are being discussed in the US Congress.

Exempt employees, including those working remotely, must be paid their full weekly salary if they perform any work during the week, even if the productivity is lower. Employers should establish reasonable productivity goals during the emergency. Meanwhile, non-exempt hourly workers must only be paid for the hours they work. If the employer has hourly employees working from home, it must establish timekeeping procedures (paper timesheets, website login, check in and out by email) and make sure the employee complies with overtime and meal period requirements.

Additionally, under PR Act 379 of 1948, a non-exempt employee may request a change in schedule, number of working hours and workplace; the employer has discretion to grant or deny it, but must state the reasons. Employees may also use their accrued sick leave if necessary and employees covered by PR Act 180-1998 may also use up to five days of the sick leave to care for partners, children, parents or elderly or disabled persons under their custody. The PR Department of Labor, by means of Labor Secretary Opinion No. 2020-01, encouraged employers to keep paying the employees’ compensation -for example, by approving vacation leave- and reminded that employers are free to provide benefits in addition to the ones required by legislation.

A bill (PC 2428) was approved by both legislative chambers and sent to the Governor for her consideration on March 19. This bill would require private employers to provide a 5-day paid special leave to employees who have or are suspected to have COVID-19, after they have exhausted their accrued sick leave and vacation leave.

Another bill (PS 1538) requiring private employers to continue paying salary or compensation to employees -including hourly employees- if the business ceased operations due to coronavirus, without charge to any license, was approved by the Puerto Rico Senate on March 16, but it did not pass in the House of Representatives on March 19.

The employees affected by business shutdowns or temporary closures may request unemployment benefits through the PR Labor Department’s webpage. 

Romania 

The Government issued an Emergency Ordinance on 20 March, which came into force on 21 March. provides state support for employers in the event of temporary closure / reduction of business, and state support for employees in the event of school closures.  Read full details here. 

South Africa 

A new notice has been issued by the Compensation Fund regarding Compensation for occupationally-acquired Novel Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19).  Employees who contract COVID-19 in the course and scope of their employment can claim from the compensation fund as opposed to claiming from their employer, in accordance with the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993 (“COIDA”).

In order to be eligible to make a claim, an employee must be able to show the following:

  1. Occupational exposure to a known source of COVID-19;
  2. A reliable diagnosis of COVID-19 as per the WHO guidelines;
  3. An approved official trip and travel history to countries and/or areas of high risk for COVID-19 on work assignment;
  4. A presumed high-risk work environment where transmission of COVID-19 is inherently prevalent; and
  5. A chronological sequence between the work exposure and the development of symptoms.

In terms of the COIDA, employees do not need  to prove fault in order to succeed in a claim, they merely need to prove that the disease was contracted in the course and scope of their employment.

Spain 

The Government has announced that the state of emergency will be extended for 15 more days until 11 April.  This is still to be approved by the Spanish Council of Ministers.

Ukraine 

As of 1200, March 24, all tourist flights are prohibited into and out of Ukraine.  All passenger flights, which are performed not through Boryspil International Airport, will be prohibited. This applies exclusively to passenger traffic. 

As of March 23, an emergency situation was introduced in Donetsk, Ternopil and Cherkasy region by Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (relevant decisions have previously been taken by the regional commission on techno-ecological safety and emergency situations). 

As of March 20 an emergency situation was introduced in Dnipropetrovsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, Donetsk regions and in the city of Kyiv. The legal implications are different from an emergency state (when certain citizens’ rights may be restricted).  

The Commission on Techno-Ecological Safety and Emergency Situations of Kyiv City Council took additional measures to limit the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, inter alia:

  • use of public transport is allowed only under special tickets for certain categories of citizens: medical workers, public utilities workers, workers whose activities are essential, and 
  • the number of people who can be in pharmacies and grocery stores at the same time is limited.
US 

Federal: Families First Coronavirus Response Act: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”) was signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, goes into effect on April 2, 2020 and expires on December 31, 2020.  The FFCRA requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide COVID-19-related paid sick and family leave to eligible employees.  The FFCRA provides for 80 hours of paid sick leave for eligible full-time employees and reduced amounts for part-employees, and expands the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to cover leave to care for a child if the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider of the child is unavailable, due to a public health emergency.  To help offset the costs associated with these new paid leave requirements, the FFCRA provides for various capped employer payroll tax credits.

EEOC Guidance: On March 19, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act publication (available at https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html).  The EEOC originally issued that guidance in October 2009 during the spread of the H1N1 virus, and confirmed that it was applicable to the coronavirus pandemic in early March 2020.  The updated version now includes specific references to COVID-19 and its impacts on various employment-related matters.  The EEOC guidance makes clear that while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) remains in effect, it does not interfere with employers following advice from the CDC and other public health authorities on appropriate steps to take relating to the workplace.  So, for example, employers may know take employees’ body temperatures to determine whether someone has a fever, which would normally be considered a prohibited medical test under the ADA (the information remains subject to the ADA’s confidentiality protections).  The guidance also makes clear that employers may send home employees with COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it (e.g., a fever).

Guidance on Identifying Essential Workers: On March 19, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the federal government issued guidance to support state, local, and industry partners in identifying the critical infrastructure sectors and the essential workers needed to maintain the services and functions Americans depend on daily and need to be able to operate resiliently during the COVID-19 pandemic response.  This document gives guidance to state, local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions and the private sector on defining essential critical infrastructure workers. Promoting the ability of such workers to continue to work during periods of community restriction, access management, social distancing, or closure orders/directives is crucial to community resilience and continuity of essential functions.

Illinois: Illinois incorporated the recommendations in the “stay at home” Orders issued Governor Pritzker on March 20.  It is anticipated that most, if not all, Governors who issue such orders will do the same.



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