As the Serbian Government continually introduces new measures and restrictions in an attempt to control the COVID-19 outbreak, several issues have arisen in respect of employment relations in the past few days. Having in mind the frequent updates and amendments of the situation, and in order to avoid panic at the workplace, the employers should regularly and transparently communicate with the employees about the measures the company is undertaking to prevent transmission of the virus.
Safety and hygiene
An employer is generally obliged to enable adequate health and safety measures to its employees as well as to all other persons present and working in the employer’s work environment. Employers engaged in the production business and business where sanitary requirements are monitored by the state authorities and which cannot organize work from home should secure hygienic measures such as preventive disinfection of premises.
The employer has an obligation to report to competent authorities any cases of coronavirus among its employees.
The employee who has fallen sick or has any symptoms of the virus will open a regular sick leave. In order to ensure health and safety requirements for all employees, employers may also ask the employees to abide by the obligatory recommendations issued by the Serbian Government and to stay at home, avoiding any close contact with other people and suggest visiting the doctor. The employers may also decide to direct the employees to collective vacation or another type of legally recognized paid leaves.
The employer shall also have sanitary and hygienic obligations, such as disinfection of premises, surroundings, neighborhoods, storages and other buildings were the person who was diagnosed with infection was moving.
The employer has the obligation to provide a safe workplace for all employees. This and other obligations regarding health and safety gives the employer a right to ask an employee whether he/she is infected or whether he/she has recently travelled to a high-risk area.
Employees are obliged to inform employers on every potential threat for life and health and on all occurrences that could jeopardize their health, as well as the health and safety of other employees. Failure to comply with this health and safety obligation may even represent a breach of duty in relation to health and safety measures and is grounds for termination of employment.
Although the employer is formally restricted by circumstances in which he/she is entitled to refer an employee to medical testing (under suspicion that the employee is under influence of alcohol or drugs or that he/she is misusing sick leave), the employer is also obliged to organize work and provide working conditions for employees in compliance with health and safety regulations. Furthermore, the employer is entitled to stop any type of work that poses an immediate threat to the life or health of employees. In this respect, it seems reasonable that the employer can refer an employee to undergo testing for coronavirus if symptoms are present.
Homeworking, quarantine, and closing the workplace
Under the decree of the Government, employers during the state of emergency to enable work from home for employees engaged in positions where such work is possible. The decree also deals with the procedure for introducing work from home unilaterally by the employer.
Further, the Decree deals with cases when the employer’s work organization cannot be organized as work from home – where other measures must be introduced by the employers (work in shifts, night work, health and safety measures, etc.). In the case of work within the period of curfew, the employer should acquire a permit for all employees from the Ministry of Economy.
A person can either be in self-quarantine, or under medical supervision and house quarantine based on the decision of a sanitary inspector, or in specially organised centres if they come to Serbia from especially endangered territories.
If the business activity and working positions within the company make it impossible to work from home, the employers have the option to close the workplace. Due to temporary cancellation of work, which is not the fault of an employee, the employee may be directed to a so-called forced paid leave, for the period of 45 working days, or longer upon the consent of the competent Minister.
As of this weekend companies performing their activities in stores located in the shopping malls had to cancel work in such places of work (excluding supermarkets, food shops, and pharmacies).
An employee will be directed to a sick leave according to a medical certificate in case of a coronavirus infection (or other illnesses) and will be entitled to compensation in the amount of 65% percent of his/her salary, which will be borne by the employer for the first 30 days of sick leave, and by the state funds afterwards. In the case of quarantine, caused by a contagious disease, the employee is entitled to the compensation of salary due to a temporary impediment for work in the amount of 65% of salary.
The Serbian Government has completely closed all its borders for passenger traffic, with an exception of authorized entry based on the approval of the competent authority due to the national interests and humanitarian reasons.
Reporting to the authorities
Employers have both a general obligation to immediately report every dangerous occurrence that may jeopardize the safety and health of its employees and an obligation under the Law on Protection of Population from Infectious Diseases to report any cases of the coronavirus cases among its employees. When reporting, the employer needs to act in accordance with the data protection principles, in particular with the data minimization principle, i.e. the employer may not share with the authorities more information than it is necessary for identification/localization of the employee and the protection of public interests in the area of public health.