The appearance and spread of the coronavirus in Hungary made extraordinary measures necessary. Therefore, the Government of Hungary decided to declare a "state of emergency" on 11 March 2020 and introduced numerous preventive measures, with practically immediate effect.
Primarily, the handling of the pandemic and the disease prevention is the task of state institutions. In that regard the authorities have already introduced different measures.
Since then, new measures have been adopted, and the Government partially modified the employment rules on 18 March 2020. Below, we summarize the most important information in this information notice, which should be considered by companies (as employers).
Employers must ensure the conditions of healthy and safe work. These include in particular:
- Taking preliminary protective measures at the place of work;
- In order to safeguard the health of the employees and to stop the spread of the pandemic taking preventive measures;
- Notification of the employees;
- Gathering information from the employees to make the appropriate decisions.
Preliminary protectice measures
- The risk assessment in respect of the place of work is significantly important, if necessary with the help of an occupational physician, an employment safety expert or an employee representative;
- Creating plan of actions (on management level) in case of ordering other precautionary measures, and in case of an employee carrying the virus would get into the organization;
- Procuring necessary protective equipment and preparing for the use of them and coaching for employees.
- Postponing business trips, missions and corporate events;
- Risk assessment in relation to destination countries in case of secondment, maintaining and updating a list of the endangered territories;
- Listing such positions and tasks which may be carried out from home or within remote work;
- Making an action plan regarding tasks that cannot be carried out from home (creating orders of duty, work plans);
- Setting up a crisis staff (quasi "operative action group") which may take decision and introduce measures with an immediate effect. Besides the management, it is worth to involve in it the occupational physician, the communication expert and the legal expert or communicate with them.
Informing the employees
For the purpose of organizing healthy and safe work, it is recommended to inform the employees on the followings:
- possible symptoms of the disease, the incubation period and the ways of its spread;
- precautionary measures to avoid the infection (e.g. regular hand washing, use of antiseptics);
- the availability and use of the protective equipment and chemicals provided by the employer;
- the employee's tasks if he/she has symptoms or develop symptoms on his/her colleagues (report to the employer, direct supervisor, occupational physician, etc.).
Privacy aspects of the information request from employees
Hereinafter, we inform you on the information notice in the subject of the corona viruses issued by the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information ("Authority"). The employer may process the employees' personal data as follows:
- The employer may not use diagnostic devices (e.g. thermometer) in a general manner in order to screen the coronavirus.
- The employer may order that employees must notify the person designated by the employer or the occupational physicians or other doctors if it is assumed that they have been exposed to the coronavirus (e.g. possible meeting with a coronavirus patient).
- The employer may record in connection with the employee's notification the identification data of the employee, the content of the notification said by the employee in connection with the coronavirus (even if the employee stayed for a private purpose in an affected area) and the measures ordered employer.
- Instead of the employees' notification, the employer may apply a questionnaire if the employer has carried out a preliminary risk assessment and come to the conclusion that the application of the questionnaire does not restrict unnecessarily the right of employees to privacy. The questionnaire may not contain any question concerning the medical history of the employee and the employer may not require employees to enclose health documentation.
Obligations of employees
If the employee is asymptomatic, he/she must be present at his/her workplace. The fear of infection does not serve as a legal basis to refuse the duty to perform work and the availability obligation.
Duty to cooperate and provide information to the employer as to any circumstances which may be relevant for health and safety and work performance.
The employer's payment obligation in case of exemption the employee from work
- If the employee is healthy (asymptomatic), but for safety reasons – according to the company procedure - it is necessary to be exempted from work, the employee may be entitled to his/her base salary (stoppage time).
- If the competent authority orders home quarantine in respect of the employee and the employee performs work from home, the employee is entitled to his/her salary. In the lack of work, the employee may be entitled to sickness benefit.
- If the employer orders work from home, and the employee performs work from home, the employee is entitled to his/her salary. If the employee may not work from home (e.g. factory job), he/she is entitled to his/her base salary (stoppage time).
- If the employee is unable to work due to the closure of the school or kindergarten, but the employee performs work from home, the employee is entitled to his/her salary. If the employee is unable to work from home, the employee may agree with his/her employer on taking his/her annual leave or unpaid leave. Otherwise such absence is regarded as an absence due to personal or family reasons deserving special consideration, or unavoidable external reasons and no compensation is payable by the employer
- If due to a reduction of capacities stoppages or closures will be ordered, it needs to be examined carefully in consideration of all circumstances whether employees are entitled to compensations (base salary for the stoppage time) or the stoppage/closure is due to unavoidable external circumstances (force majeure), in which case employees are not entitled to compensation.
Home office / remote work
Under the new rules, effective from the 19 March 2020, employers may order home office or remote work without the employees' consent.
It is the duty and liability of the employer to ensure technical conditions for the purpose of work and the healthy and safe working conditions. The latter may cause problems in practice as in principle the employer needs to inspect the place of work – this may not be possible under the circumstances.
Determining the work schedule and working hours is still the responsibility of the employer, at the same time individual agreements may be concluded e.g. in relation to partial flexible work schedule.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that the new rules, which has entered into force on 19 March 2020, allow that the agreement of the employer and employee derogate extensively from the provisions of the Labour Code. With regards to the unusual situation, it is likely that authorities and courts will be more permissive in assessing the content of these agreements.
The above summary is provided for general information purposes and is not to be construed as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.
This article is part of our coronavirus-focused legal updates – visit our coronavirus infocorner to get more info!