During the last week in particular, the coronavirus outbreak has started impacting the Finnish workplaces on many fronts and this has also triggered a mass of practical questions relating to employment relations.
We have collected a list of most important aspects which the Finnish employers should take into consideration when contemplating measures to be taken in these unexpected circumstances.
1. Employer is obliged to ensure the workplace health and safety
As it is evident, the employer has an obligation to promote and ensure the employees’ health and safety at the workplace. This means for instance, providing the employees with appropriate instructions on how to act under different circumstances, based on latest information available from the authorities and from the occupational healthcare service provider.
Most importantly, the instructions should mandate that employees with increased risk of or (suspected) corona-infection should keep distance to the workplace. In addition, such instructions typically govern hygiene at the workplace, remote work arrangements, mandatory travel arrangements, if any, and other practicalities.
It is generally recommended that employees are allowed to take sick leave by notifying this to the employer instead of being required to provide medical certificates.
2. Payment of salary
Voluntary measures taken by the employer do not affect the payment of salaries
Possible voluntary quarantines, closing down of facilities or corresponding measures limiting the employee’s ability to perform work do not affect the employer’s obligation to pay salary to the employee.
Normal sick leave rules apply
If the employee, the employee’s children or family members are infected by coronavirus, the general rules regarding sick leave, childcare leave and temporary leave for taking care of a family member apply.
The employee’s right to specific sickness allowance for mandatory quarantines
If a doctor has ordered an employee and/or the employee’s child under 16 years old to quarantine, the employee is entitled to sickness allowance from the state (Fi: tartuntatautipäiväraha). The allowance compensates the employee’s lost earnings for the quarantine period.
If the employee presents a quarantine order to the employer, the employer is obliged to report the employee’s earnings to Finnish Social Security Institution KELA for the payment of the allowance.
Nevertheless, if the employee is able to work remotely from home, the employer is obliged to pay the employee his/her normal salary and the employee does not have a right to allowance from the state.
Normal holiday rules apply
The risks related to coronavirus do not, as a starting point, impact the employee’s right to accrue and take holidays.
The employees generally take the agreed holidays during the ‘corona period’ and other periods of holiday can also be agreed upon. The employees are entitled to postpone their holidays in case they are on sick leave at the start of holiday. If the sick leave starts during a period of annual leave, the right to postpone can be used after a waiting period of six days.
The holidays accrue normally for the time periods when the employer is obliged to pay salary to the employee. The employees accrue holidays yearly during up to 75 working days when the employee is on sick leave. In addition, the employee has the right to up to four weeks’ leave complementing annual leave lost due to sick leave.
3. Authorities deciding to close down the employer’s operations
If the operations of the employer are ceased wholly or partially due to a decision of the authorities or in corresponding circumstances where the performance of work is not possible due to exceptional external circumstances (rather than the employer’s own decision or changes in the market conditions), the employer may be entitled to stop paying salaries to the employees after performing work has not been possible for a period of 14 days.
4. Temporary lay-offs
If the employer’s ability to offer work is temporarily reduced due to the effects of Corona virus or indirect effects of the authorities’ related decisions, the employer may be entitled to temporary lay off employees.
For employers employing more than 20 employees, this requires initiating co-operation consultation procedure with the employees or in most cases with their representatives. The employer is obliged to give a proposal for negotiations at least five days before the first consultation meeting. The negotiation period is two weeks if the duration of lay-offs is not longer than 90 days; or six weeks if the lay-offs are longer than 90 days or if the number of the laid off employees is ten or more.
Once the cooperation consultation obligation is met, the employer must notify the employees of the lay-offs with 14 days’ notice. During the negotiation period and the notice period, the employees are entitled to normal pay.
The applicable collective agreements or local agreements may contain provisions partially deviating from the above statutory approach.
5. Privacy aspects
The coronavirus situation does not entitle employers to collect further data on the state of health of the employees in comparison to normal circumstances in which such rights are very limited. In practice, such data can be collected only to the extent mandatory to meet the employer’s statutory obligations. The data on employee’s state of health should primarily be handled by the occupational health services provider and the health authorities, as applicable.
However, the exceptional circumstances at hand may require also processing of other type of employee data than health data. For instance, collecting information on whether an employee has travelled in countries considered epidemic areas, the fact that an employee is in quarantine or, e.g., information with whom an employee has worked with before being set under quarantine, is not under the restrictions related to health data. In addition, if the employee himself/ herself reports on possible exposure, this data can be processed.
The most recent guidelines set by the Finnish government will certainly trigger a number of novel questions. Besides the effects of widely discussed closing of schools and recommendations related to day care arrangements, the government has, for instance, initiated urgent legislative work for facilitating layoffs of fixed-term employees, for extending the payment periods of pension contributions and for extending the scope of applicability of the Act on Cooperation within Undertakings (the Cooperation Act) governing the statutory cooperation consultation procedure.
Within one week, the labour market parties are also expected to give their proposals to the Minister of Employment regarding the changes in the scope of applicability of the Cooperation Act and the applicability of specific ‘crisis provisions’ of the collective bargaining agreements under these specific circumstances.
We will continue monitoring the legislative changes and guidelines published by the authorities to provide latest insight and information on the impacts of coronavirus to working life. We are happy to answer any questions regarding the impacts of Corona-virus in your operations.