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EY Cyprus COVID-19 Updates

Q&A - Implementation of the emergency measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus in labour relations and businesses

The rapid spread of coronavirus and the increase in confirmed cases in Cyprus has led the Republic of Cyprus to take additional and more strict preventive measures. The announcement of the new measures by the President of the Republic and the Ministers of Health, Finance and Labour has caused a stir both in the business world and in the workers directly affected, while also raising many questions about how these measures are implemented, the procedures to be followed and the rights and obligations arising therefrom. Hereto below and awaiting the Detailed Plans to be issued by the relevant Ministries, we will try to answer questions that concern employers and employees on day-to-day issues arising from the implementation of new measures.

 

1.     What are the Employer’s obligations in view of the risk of Coronavirus?

Every employer is legally required to continuously evaluate the work environment and take all necessary action in view of possible risks. Covid-19 is an obvious danger in many businesses. Appropriate measures must therefore be taken to ensure health and safety at work. Examples of this type are:

(a)   providing disinfectant, antiseptic

(b)   technical capabilities as an alternative to physical meetings (eg videoconferencing),

(c)    working from home and having employees coming to work on rotation i.e. some should work from work and some at the workplace.

(d)  Shops not located in a shopping mall or falling under the definition of a department store, may remain open subject to specific conditions:

  •  the maximum number of employees is set to 5, and
  •  at the same time the ratio of 1 person per 8sqm, including employees must be applied.

 

2.     Can the Employer prohibit an employee who may be infected to enter the premises?

The employer is responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment. The risk of coronavirus spreading has led the Ministry of Health to issue specific instructions to people who have either been infected or may have been infected. Employers are required to strictly adhere to these guidelines and not allow persons who fall within the guidelines of the Ministry of Health to enter the workplace. These persons will be entitled to sickness benefit as discussed in Question 8 below.

In particular, the Ministry of Health specifies that employees who (a) are positive for coronavirus or (b) have contacted with a confirmed case or (c) have travelled abroad, regardless of destination, in the last 14 days, must be restricted from the workplace space.

Also, for the sake of safety and health of other employees, the employer may refuse access to staff who may be infected, as the safety of other employees is paramount. In such a case, the employee may be required to work from home and make all necessary arrangements for medical examination.

 

3.     Are companies allowed to inform their employees about infected colleagues by naming them?

The communication (even internally) of infected employees by name is a very powerful action and a heavy intrusion into the rights of the affected employees and thus must be carefully assessed in each individual case.

However, this must be balanced with the fact that there may be major risks for other employees and especially their older family members which must be also considered. Any disclosures made must also be in line with the principle of data minimization in the sense of restricting the information recipients.

 

4.     Does an employee need to answer the employer's questions on whether the employee has recently spent time in high-risk or restricted areas?

The right to privacy is constitutionally guaranteed, but it is not absolute. In cases where, inter alia, a public health issue arises, the interference with the right to privacy is justified. Therefore, since the employer must maintain a healthy and safe working environment, such a question may be asked by the employer to the employee and the latter must answer. Of course, as mentioned above, the employee's responses will be processed under the umbrella of GDPR legislation.

 

5.     Which businesses fall under the Suspension of Work Plan?

Businesses whose operations have been suspended under the Decrees of the Minister of Health and businesses that continue to operate and will suffer a reduction in turnover of over 25%.

Ιt is noted that businesses whose operations have been suspended retain the ability to perform administrative or other tasks behind closed doors provided that all hygiene rules are followed.

The employees of such businesses, including administrative staff, are entitled to an "unemployment benefit". We note that no instructions or guidelines have been issued for employers who voluntarily wishes to suspend work. The details and terms of the Plan are expected to be announced shortly and an application will be made online.

 

6.     Can the employer force the employee to take his/her annual leave?

No. If the business suspends work, the employees will be entitled to unemployment benefit. Otherwise, the employees cannot be forced to take their annual leave.

 

7.     Is the employer obliged to pay the employee his salary for the period he is not working?

Provided that the Employer falls within the categories of compulsory suspension of work otherwise enters such Scheme, he will not be liable to pay the employees their salaries because they will be entitled the unemployment benefit.

 

8.     In the case an employee does not want to apply for unemployment benefit, is he entitled to take his annual leave?

If the business falls within the category of compulsory suspension, the employee should apply for the unemployment benefit. He will not be entitled to annual leave because the business will temporarily not be operating.

 

9.     What happens if an employee does not qualify for unemployment benefit?

The affected persons who do not qualify, may submit an application, which will be examined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the particular characteristics of each case.

 

10.     Which businesses fall under the Small Business Support Plan?

The Small Business Support Plan applies to companies that (a) employ up to 5 employees, provided they retain such employees at work and (b) have suffered a loss of turnover of more than 25%.

This Plan provides for a subsidy of 70% of employees' payroll. The details and terms of the Plan are expected to be announced shortly and an application will be made online.

 

11.     Who is entitled to work from home?

Where employees have to put themselves under compulsory self-restraint but are able to work, then, if possible, employees may be allowed to work from home.

In addition, according to the instructions of the Ministry of Health, employers should allow employees over 60 years of age or belonging to high risk groups as designated by the Ministry of Health to work from home. For adults who have aggravating factors or chronic illnesses as designated by the Ministry of Health, if work from home is not possible they will be entitled to sickness benefit.

It should be noted that employees who are over 60 years of age and do not have aggravating factors or chronic illnesses may work in the workplace, provided that all safety and health measures followed.

 

12.  Who is entitled to “sickness benefit”?

Where work from home is not possible and therefore an employee, falling within the scope of the Ministry of Health's instructions, cannot perform his duties outside the workplace, the question arises as to whether he will be entitled to pay for the period s/he is out of work. Because the employee’s absence is not due to the employer, the latter is not obliged to pay his salary for the period he is absent, since the employee will receive a sickness benefit.

According to the new measures announced by the Ministry of Labour on 15/03/2020, an average sickness benefit of € 800 per month will be paid in the following cases:

(i)   Workers who have specific health problems and which are included on the List published by the Ministry of Health, who must be absent from work for the purpose of protecting their health and not deteriorating it. The prerequisite of submitting a certificate by their personal physician is applicable.

(ii) Compulsory absence from work of persons forced or instructed by the Authorities (Category 1 [compulsory restraint under medical supervision (quarantine)] and Category 2 [self-restraint under telephone surveillance]), provided that these employees hold a certificate issued by the Ministry of Health.

(iii) Persons between the ages of 63 - 65, who do not receive statutory pension and continue to work and fall into Categories 1 and 2 of the Ministry of Health Guide on vulnerable groups, provided that the employees under restraint hold a certificate issued by the Ministry of Health.

In cases where an employee is found positive to coronavirus or is hospitalized, he or she may make use of the existing procedure for receiving sickness benefit.

 

13.  Who is entitled to “special leave”?

The rapid transmission of the coronavirus and its proclamation into a global pandemic necessitated, inter alia, the temporary suspension of all schools, at all levels of education, both public and private. This results in a large percentage of working parents having to stay home to care for their children.

Therefore, a special leave of 4 week, excluding public holidays, will be granted to parents working in the private sector for the care of children up to 15 years of age, unless it is a parent of a person with disabilities then no age limit applies.

It is awarded to a parent with a monthly salary of up to €2,500 (gross). Full-time and part-time employees as well as shift workers are entitled to special leave. For the first €1,000 of the parent’s salary, a “special leave” allowance will be paid at 60% of the salary and for the next €1,000 of his/her salary, a 40% allowance will be granted. The employer will not pay/supplement any other amount. It is granted to one of the two parents.

 

14.  Can the Employer refuse the employee to take Special Leave?

No. Special Leave has been adopted by the Government to enable parents to stay home and take care of their children without the need to take paid or unpaid leave. We note that if a working from home arrangement is agreed, then the employee is not allowed the special leave.

 

For additional information with respect to this Alert, please contact the following:

Charalambos G. Prountzos

CESA Law Leader, Law and Funds Services Leader of ΕΥ Cyprus

Email:Charalambos.Prountzos@cylaw.ey. com

 

Demetris Kailis

Advocate, Manager, Legal Team

Email: Demetris.Kailis@cylaw.ey.com

 

 

Tania Tofaridou

Advocate, Legal Team

Email: Tania.Tofaridou@cylaw.ey.com

 

 

Prountzos & Prountzos LLC

36, Agias Elenis Street, Galaxias Building,

Block B, Office 602, 6th Floor,

1061 Nicosia, Cyprus

Tel: +357 22 669699 Fax: +357 22 669650

Email: info@cylaw.ey.com

 

 

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