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Coronavirus and employees - What should companies do?

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Legal news
calendar 6 March 2020
globus Sweden

In line with the ongoing coronavirus developments (COVID-19), both Swedish 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 the employee is entitled to pay during the different types of absence. 

Although the clear general rule in relation to the first question is that companies should not extensively ask about the cause for sick leave, employees have a duty to disclose if they are or suspect they have the infectious disease. The employer can also request that employees notify the employer if they, or somebody in their immediate vicinity, have visited certain countries recently, or if they know that they have been in contact with persons who have been in these areas.

As regards remuneration, employees shall have the right to statutory sick pay if they become sick with coronavirus, irrespective of if they became sick at work, in their spare time, during a business trip or during holiday leave.

In the event that the employee is not sick, but the employer requires that the employee does not come in to work, the employee shall be entitled to salary, for example if:

  • The employee is quarantined at your request (for example, after traveling to a hotspot area for the infection)
  • The employee is sent home because you have decided to shut down your activities

In the event that the employee is not sick, but authorities prevent the employee from coming to work, or if the requirements for disease carrier benefit (Sw. smittbärarpenning) are otherwise met, the employee can apply for disease carrier benefit from the National Insurance Office (Försäkringskassan). The requirements for entitlement to disease carrier benefit is that the employee 1) has or can be assumed to have the coronavirus without having lost his/her working ability, 2) carries or can be assumed to carry the virus on to other persons without being sick him/herself, or 3) in another way has or can be assumed to have been exposed to the virus without being sick. The right to disease carrier benefit however requires a doctor’s statement verifying that the employee meets the requirements for remuneration.

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 could constitute an unlawful absence without a valid reason. For employees who travel to areas which the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against visiting, it can be discussed whether it should be regarded as self-inflicted illness if the employee becomes ill during or after such a trip.

IUNO recommends that companies keep travelers 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 measures 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 the employee is entitled to pay during the different types of absence. 

Although the clear general rule in relation to the first question is that companies should not extensively ask about the cause for sick leave, employees have a duty to disclose if they are or suspect they have the infectious disease. The employer can also request that employees notify the employer if they, or somebody in their immediate vicinity, have visited certain countries recently, or if they know that they have been in contact with persons who have been in these areas.

As regards remuneration, employees shall have the right to statutory sick pay if they become sick with coronavirus, irrespective of if they became sick at work, in their spare time, during a business trip or during holiday leave.

In the event that the employee is not sick, but the employer requires that the employee does not come in to work, the employee shall be entitled to salary, for example if:

  • The employee is quarantined at your request (for example, after traveling to a hotspot area for the infection)
  • The employee is sent home because you have decided to shut down your activities

In the event that the employee is not sick, but authorities prevent the employee from coming to work, or if the requirements for disease carrier benefit (Sw. smittbärarpenning) are otherwise met, the employee can apply for disease carrier benefit from the National Insurance Office (Försäkringskassan). The requirements for entitlement to disease carrier benefit is that the employee 1) has or can be assumed to have the coronavirus without having lost his/her working ability, 2) carries or can be assumed to carry the virus on to other persons without being sick him/herself, or 3) in another way has or can be assumed to have been exposed to the virus without being sick. The right to disease carrier benefit however requires a doctor’s statement verifying that the employee meets the requirements for remuneration.

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 could constitute an unlawful absence without a valid reason. For employees who travel to areas which the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against visiting, it can be discussed whether it should be regarded as self-inflicted illness if the employee becomes ill during or after such a trip.

IUNO recommends that companies keep travelers 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 measures to a sick employee.

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Anders

Etgen Reitz

Partner

Franziska

Brüggemann

Associate

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