Coronavirus (COVID-19): A new Challenge for Employers
The rapid spread of the Coronavirus in European countries, as well as the appearance of the first cases of infection in Serbia and the region, have led to the declaration of a State of Emergency on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, which was declared on 15 March 2020.
After the adoption of the Decision on Declaring a State of Emergency, on 15 and 16 March 2020, the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the competent authorities passed a series of decisions, decrees, and ordinances closely regulating different measures during the State of Emergency. Such measures include: the shut-down of all educational institutions, a ban on convening and organizing indoor and outdoor gatherings, the limitation of entrance into the country for foreign citizens, restriction and prohibition of movement of persons, etc. The unprecedented nature of this situation has caused numerous new challenges for employers and employees alike in the Republic of Serbia.
In particular, the government passed a Decree on the Organization of Employers’ Operations during the State of Emergency (“the Official Gazette of the RS” No- 31/2020 – “Decree”) on 16 March 2020.
In accordance with the Decree, employers are obliged to introduce work outside of the premises of the employer, i.e. from home or remote locations, for all employees that occupy positions where such type of organization is possible. If this possibility is not regulated by the company’s general act or individual employment contracts, the employer can issue individual resolutions to employees regulating all aspects of work outside the premises of the employer in accordance with the Labour Law, particularly regarding working hours and supervision of the employees’ work. In addition, employers are obliged to keep a record of the employees working outside the employer’s premises.
For all other employees working in positions where it is objectively not possible to introduce working from home, employers are obliged to organize work in a manner that does not threaten the health of the employees, particularly by:
- Introducing shift work (if it is possible and if it does not require additional funds) in order to reduce the number of employees within business premises;
- Postponing all business trips (in the country and abroad) in accordance with the decision of the competent authority on the prohibition and temporary limitation of entry and movement;
- Organizing meetings using the electronic means of communication.
Additionally, from the aspect of occupational safety and health, the employer is obliged to implement all general, special, and emergency measures that refer to the hygienic safety of buildings and persons in accordance with the Law on the Protection of Population from Infectious Diseases.
The Decree, unfortunately, does not regulate numerous contentious issues that arise in practice, such as: (I) the manner of work organization, or absence from work, for employees who are forced to stay at home to care for their children; or (ii) the basis of being absent from work and the amount of remuneration for employees who undergo preventive self-isolation without the accompanying medical certificates of illness by a certified health authority.
Apart from the methods of operational organization prescribed by the Decree, employers have other measures at their disposal in accordance with the Labour Law and, through their application, they can reduce the number of employees that come to work (e.g. by managing the periods of employees’ annual leaves, introducing partial or complete stoppage of work, or by redistribution of working hours).
For consultations regarding the implementation of the Decree, and impact of the State of Emergency on the business operations, you can contact Irena Kalmić at email@example.com.