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Coronavirus and employees - What should companies do?

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Legal news
calendar 6 March 2020
globus Denmark

In line with the ongoing coronavirus developments (COVID-19), both Danish and foreign companies have already experienced sick employees, voluntary and imposed quarantines as well as closure of activities, etc. But what are companies’ responsibilities according to employment law with the new issues that arise in this regard?

A number of new questions are currently being raised in relation to how companies should deal with the spread of coronavirus to their employees, including whether it is appropriate to inquire about the reason for absence and whether employees are entitled to pay during the different types of absence. 

On the first question, the clear general rule remains that companies cannot ask about the cause of sick leave.

However, this does not prevent companies from asking other questions such as whether the employee has travelled to a so-called hotspot for infection or whether the employee has been in contact with others who have been infected with coronavirus. At the same time, employees may also freely choose to disclose whether he or she has been infected with coronavirus or is showing symptoms. In these circumstances, companies must be very aware that processing of health information is subject to applicable data protection rules and as a main rule is prohibited unless the purpose of the processing activity is to apply for sick leave benefits due to coronavirus or with the view to register a work-related injury.

On the second question, as to whether employees can receive their usual salary during absence, the answer varies depending on the type of absence. Employees are normally entitled to receive their salary as usual during sick leave, in cases where:

  • The employee becomes ill with coronavirus
  • The employee is quarantined at your request (for example, after traveling to a hotspot area for the infection)
  • The employee gets sick during holiday leave
  • The employee becomes ill or quarantined during a business trip
  • The employee is sent home because you have decided to shut down your activities

However, employees are obviously not entitled to leave work due to fear of infection, problems with public transport, lack of childcare or the person's decision to quarantine themselves. In such instances, this would constitute an unlawful absence without a valid reason. For employees who travel to areas which the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against visiting, companies may also consider it as self-inflicted illness if the employee becomes ill during or after such a trip.

IUNOs opinion

IUNO recommends that companies keep travellers and expatriates up to date on the development of the situation and that they also have action plans in place in case employees become ill. Companies should carefully assess the specifics of each case before applying employment law consequences to a sick employee.

A number of new questions are currently being raised in relation to how companies should deal with the spread of coronavirus to their employees, including whether it is appropriate to inquire about the reason for absence and whether employees are entitled to pay during the different types of absence. 

On the first question, the clear general rule remains that companies cannot ask about the cause of sick leave.

However, this does not prevent companies from asking other questions such as whether the employee has travelled to a so-called hotspot for infection or whether the employee has been in contact with others who have been infected with coronavirus. At the same time, employees may also freely choose to disclose whether he or she has been infected with coronavirus or is showing symptoms. In these circumstances, companies must be very aware that processing of health information is subject to applicable data protection rules and as a main rule is prohibited unless the purpose of the processing activity is to apply for sick leave benefits due to coronavirus or with the view to register a work-related injury.

On the second question, as to whether employees can receive their usual salary during absence, the answer varies depending on the type of absence. Employees are normally entitled to receive their salary as usual during sick leave, in cases where:

  • The employee becomes ill with coronavirus
  • The employee is quarantined at your request (for example, after traveling to a hotspot area for the infection)
  • The employee gets sick during holiday leave
  • The employee becomes ill or quarantined during a business trip
  • The employee is sent home because you have decided to shut down your activities

However, employees are obviously not entitled to leave work due to fear of infection, problems with public transport, lack of childcare or the person's decision to quarantine themselves. In such instances, this would constitute an unlawful absence without a valid reason. For employees who travel to areas which the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against visiting, companies may also consider it as self-inflicted illness if the employee becomes ill during or after such a trip.

IUNOs opinion

IUNO recommends that companies keep travellers and expatriates up to date on the development of the situation and that they also have action plans in place in case employees become ill. Companies should carefully assess the specifics of each case before applying employment law consequences to a sick employee.

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Anders

Etgen Reitz

Partner

Søren

Hessellund Klausen

Partner

Kirsten

Astrup

Associate

Nina

Kumari

Associate

Cecillie

Cathrine Groth Henriksen

Associate

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