The Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the WHO on March 11, 2020. Although the number of infected people in Germany is still manageable, the virus is already having a considerable impact on social interaction. Among other things, numerous (major) events are being cancelled.
The economy and labor market could be affected by this in the next few weeks. How should employers deal with the threat of quarantine or infection of employees?
Companies in Germany must take hygienic precautions for their employees
Due to the risk of employees becoming infected at their workplace, the employer may take so-called protection obligations.
The employer must inform his employees sufficiently about the risk of infection and symptoms and take reasonable hygiene precautions. How far-reaching these must be depends on the activity of the employees in each specific case.
Time off for an employee in case of suspected infection with Covid-19
The employer may also be obliged to relieve an infected employee (or if the employee is suspected of being infected) from work in order to minimize the risk of infection for the other employees. In such cases, the employer is still obliged to continue to pay wages.
It is also possible that an authority may quarantine an employee in accordance with the Infection Protection Act. In this case, too, the employee is (usually) prevented from working. German companies are also obliged to continue to pay wages in these cases, but are entitled to reimbursement from the competent authority.
The question of whether this reimbursement claim also applies in the event of an official closure of the company is still to be clarified.
Continued payment of wages for the care of children suffering from coronavirus
It is also conceivable that an employee is prevented from working because of the care of a child suffering from coronavirus. In principle, German employers must also continue to pay wages in such cases for a period depending on each specific case. This does not apply if § 616 BGB was (effectively) excluded in the employment contract.
Employees’ health has priority
Even in the case of business trips, the employer must decide on a case-by-case basis whether a planned business trip is to be carried out (e.g. to risk areas) or postponed (for the protection of the employee). When making such decisions, special consideration must be given to the employee’s health interests.
The employer may also be obliged to notify other employees of the infection of any other employee. In this case, however, it is necessary to take into account the particularities of data protection law.
Short-time work, company holidays, termination due to coronavirus
Under certain circumstances, it is also possible for companies to impose short-time working, especially if, for example, materials are missing due to the coronavirus. Alternatively, companies can have overtime reduced or arrange for company holidays.
A dismissal due to the coronavirus is based on general principles and is therefore likely to be ineffective in most cases, unless special circumstances justify a dismissal. If you have to consider such a special termination for operational reasons, you should have this checked in advance under labor law.
Employees in Germany are not required to have a home office
Despite the risk of infection, workers must show up for work. They neither have the right to refuse to perform nor are they entitled to work from home, unless there are different provisions in individual or collective agreements.
Should employees nevertheless be absent without excuse – for example for fear of infection – they lose their wage entitlement and often face sanctions under labor law, such as a warning or even dismissal.
WINHELLER advises employers in Germany
You are an employer and have questions about the handling of the coronavirus under employment law? Together, we will develop legally compliant solutions to help your company and your employees get through the crisis in the best possible way. We would be happy to advise you!