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Coronavirus: New guidelines for gradual reopening of the workplace

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Legal news
calendar 30 April 2020
globus Sweden

The Swedish authorities have introduced strong recommendations that companies should let their employees work from home wherever possible. Sweden still maintains the recommendations at the current stage, but companies will nevertheless gradually return to normal.

The Swedish authorities still recommend that companies let their employees work from home wherever possible. In relation to the employees who, despite the authorities’ recommendations, are working from or will be returning to the workplace, the employer must comply with the guidelines issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority and the Swedish Public Health Authority in connection with the coronavirus.

The Swedish Work Environment Authority states that companies shall systematically carry out work environment and risk assessments more often than usual. This means that companies must investigate and assess the contagion risk in their workplace. Identified risks shall thereafter form the basis for the measures that the companies are obliged to take.

The Swedish Work Environment Authority states that: “If the risk can not be completely eliminated, it is often about managing the risk, for example by specific routines such as changing cleaning routines, instructions or information measures.”

How can companies safely arrange the workplace before reopening?

In order to prevent transmission at the workplace it is important that companies, in a satisfactory manner, familiarize with the guidelines issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority and adapt to the development of knowledge taking place within the area.

The general guidelines issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority, which have been developed as a result of the coronavirus, can be summarized as follows. The company must:

  • Carry out systematic risk assessments at the workplace more often than usual
  • Take measures on identified risk areas, such as formulate plans of action for common areas etc.
  • Stay updated on new knowledge concerning the coronavirus and its transmission
  • Investigate, risk assess and fix any concerns that the employees might have. In other words, the term “risk” must be interpreted broadly

The Swedish Work Environment Authority has yet to publish more specific guidelines on how companies may ensure a safe working environment when gradually reopening. On the other hand, the Swedish Public Health Authority has published provisions and general advice to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 according to the Communicable Diseases Act, including at workplaces. In the provisions, employers are advised to ensure that their employees, if possible:

  • Keep distance from each other
  • Can regularly wash their hands with soap and water, or otherwise use hand sanitizer
  • Work from home
  • Avoid unnecessary travel in work
  • Can adjust their working hours to avoid traveling during rush hour

Furthermore, the Swedish Public Health Authority advices all companies in Sweden to for example post information to employees and customers etc., mark distances on the floor, refurnish in order to avoid crowds, and have digital meetings. These guidelines serve as specific examples of what Swedish companies can do in order to fulfil their obligation to prevent transmission.

Can companies offer testing at the workplace?

Within the area of healthcare, extensive testing of employees has already been introduced, and an increased opportunity to gain access to test kits for coronavirus is expected. Therefore, several companies are considering offering employees the possibility to be tested for the infectious disease. As a main rule, it is possible to offer tests. However, whether the company can take any measures if employees refuse to take the tests, should be decided by balancing the opposite interests in the concrete case. In accordance with the Swedish Sick Pay Act, companies may in some cases legitimately ask about the employee’s sickness, but the employee is generally not obliged to provide further information. Since COVID-19 has been classified as a disease dangerous to the public, however, infected individuals have an obligation to provide further information and take measures that protect other individuals from infection.

How to handle an employee who is showing symptoms of coronavirus is another question. As a main rule, companies can and should send employees showing symptoms home, by virtue of its managerial right. This is in order to prevent further infection at the workplace and to secure potential employees in the risk group. Employees who are sent home due to illness will be entitled to sick pay as usual. Read more about coronavirus and the employees here.

IUNO’s opinion

The current situation has no precedent. Companies must therefore, through the introduction of ongoing efforts and measures as well as dialogue with employees, ensure that the workplace is organized safely to avoid disease spreading. In this connection, companies must make sure to comply with the Swedish Act on Work Environment and the Communicable Diseases Act.

IUNO recommends that companies introduce clear guidelines for what applies in the reopening of the workplace, particularly if the company considers offering testing at the workplace in this connection. 

 

The Swedish authorities still recommend that companies let their employees work from home wherever possible. In relation to the employees who, despite the authorities’ recommendations, are working from or will be returning to the workplace, the employer must comply with the guidelines issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority and the Swedish Public Health Authority in connection with the coronavirus.

The Swedish Work Environment Authority states that companies shall systematically carry out work environment and risk assessments more often than usual. This means that companies must investigate and assess the contagion risk in their workplace. Identified risks shall thereafter form the basis for the measures that the companies are obliged to take.

The Swedish Work Environment Authority states that: “If the risk can not be completely eliminated, it is often about managing the risk, for example by specific routines such as changing cleaning routines, instructions or information measures.”

How can companies safely arrange the workplace before reopening?

In order to prevent transmission at the workplace it is important that companies, in a satisfactory manner, familiarize with the guidelines issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority and adapt to the development of knowledge taking place within the area.

The general guidelines issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority, which have been developed as a result of the coronavirus, can be summarized as follows. The company must:

  • Carry out systematic risk assessments at the workplace more often than usual
  • Take measures on identified risk areas, such as formulate plans of action for common areas etc.
  • Stay updated on new knowledge concerning the coronavirus and its transmission
  • Investigate, risk assess and fix any concerns that the employees might have. In other words, the term “risk” must be interpreted broadly

The Swedish Work Environment Authority has yet to publish more specific guidelines on how companies may ensure a safe working environment when gradually reopening. On the other hand, the Swedish Public Health Authority has published provisions and general advice to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 according to the Communicable Diseases Act, including at workplaces. In the provisions, employers are advised to ensure that their employees, if possible:

  • Keep distance from each other
  • Can regularly wash their hands with soap and water, or otherwise use hand sanitizer
  • Work from home
  • Avoid unnecessary travel in work
  • Can adjust their working hours to avoid traveling during rush hour

Furthermore, the Swedish Public Health Authority advices all companies in Sweden to for example post information to employees and customers etc., mark distances on the floor, refurnish in order to avoid crowds, and have digital meetings. These guidelines serve as specific examples of what Swedish companies can do in order to fulfil their obligation to prevent transmission.

Can companies offer testing at the workplace?

Within the area of healthcare, extensive testing of employees has already been introduced, and an increased opportunity to gain access to test kits for coronavirus is expected. Therefore, several companies are considering offering employees the possibility to be tested for the infectious disease. As a main rule, it is possible to offer tests. However, whether the company can take any measures if employees refuse to take the tests, should be decided by balancing the opposite interests in the concrete case. In accordance with the Swedish Sick Pay Act, companies may in some cases legitimately ask about the employee’s sickness, but the employee is generally not obliged to provide further information. Since COVID-19 has been classified as a disease dangerous to the public, however, infected individuals have an obligation to provide further information and take measures that protect other individuals from infection.

How to handle an employee who is showing symptoms of coronavirus is another question. As a main rule, companies can and should send employees showing symptoms home, by virtue of its managerial right. This is in order to prevent further infection at the workplace and to secure potential employees in the risk group. Employees who are sent home due to illness will be entitled to sick pay as usual. Read more about coronavirus and the employees here.

IUNO’s opinion

The current situation has no precedent. Companies must therefore, through the introduction of ongoing efforts and measures as well as dialogue with employees, ensure that the workplace is organized safely to avoid disease spreading. In this connection, companies must make sure to comply with the Swedish Act on Work Environment and the Communicable Diseases Act.

IUNO recommends that companies introduce clear guidelines for what applies in the reopening of the workplace, particularly if the company considers offering testing at the workplace in this connection. 

 

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Anders

Etgen Reitz

Partner

Franziska

Brüggemann

Associate

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