COVID-19 in Estonia: Ius Laboris Back to Work Guide for International Employers
2020 - 09 - 10
Article by: Heili Haabu
Read the full Ius Laboris guide about countries across the world: COVID-19: Back to Work Guide for International Employers.
1. Restrictions on national daily life
The following measures are currently applied in order to curb the spread of the virus:
- restriction on crossing the state border;
- prohibition on individuals (with exceptions) leaving their place of residence within 14 calendar days of arrival in Estonia;
- prohibition on individuals (with exceptions) who are diagnosed with coronavirus and people residing in the same place with them leaving their place of residence until they recover;
- requirements for places where leisure services are provided and sales areas (including service providers’ service points and catering establishment’s seating areas);
- requirements for public meetings, public events, public religious services and other public religious rites, public saunas, spas, swimming pools, water parks, sports and exercise events, sports competitions, museums and exhibitions;
- restrictions on sale of alcohol in certain areas.
The Health Board has also advised people to properly observe hygiene requirements and avoid any unnecessary social contacts. Remote work has been recommended, where possible.
2. Local lockdowns and new national lockdowns
There is currently no lockdown nor is a lockdown expected to be imposed.
Various government measures are in place or planned to support businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but there are currently no government measures in place or planned specifically to support employers or employees.
3. How to keep workers safe in the office
Back in the office
If you have ensured the working environment is safe, employees (including those from vulnerable populations) may not refuse to come to work.
Setting up the workplace
In order to ensure a safe working environment and prevent employees from falling sick, you should take appropriate measures, including providing employees with necessary hygiene products, disinfectants and personal protective equipment, if necessary, reminding employees of elementary hygiene procedures, and minimising physical contact between employees and also between employees and clients (including avoiding meetings and supporting working from home where possible, etc). You should provide employees with instructions necessary in order to avoid the spread of the virus in the organisation. It is also important to ensure cleaning of frequently used rooms, objects and surfaces and to avoid meetings and business trips.
There are no separate rules for vulnerable employees or groups. You must take necessary measures to maintain a safe work environment for vulnerable populations. If you are not able to provide employees from vulnerable populations with a safe working environment, you must maintain their average remuneration during the period the employee refuses to return to on-site work.
If an employee has fallen sick, you should immediately send the sick employee home. You should ask other employees to monitor their health and to remain at home if any symptoms occur. In addition, you should carry out effective cleaning and disinfection at the workplace.
In order for you to ensure safe working environment, you are entitled to require that an employee undergoes a medical examination or gets advice as to his or her health status. You may also require an employee who is suspected to be infected not to come to work. In this case you must maintain his or her average remuneration during the period you refuse to allow such employee to work.
There is no specific requirement for the employer to report coronavirus cases to the authorities: this is done by healthcare service providers.
Communicating with your workforce
You should inform other employees about the infection of the personnel. It is, however, only justifiable to disclose the necessary information to the minimum extent. The name of the infected employee should not be disclosed to other employees without justified reason, e.g. if it is necessary to prevent further infection. You should also inform the infected employee of the information that will be shared with other employees.
Return to work after recovery
Individuals diagnosed with the coronavirus and persons living with or permanently staying in the same place as these individuals, are prohibited from leaving their residence or permanent place of stay until the diagnosed person has recovered. This means, an employee may return to work after s/he or a person with whom s/he is living or permanently staying has made a recovery. Whether a person has recovered is decided by a physician.
4. How to organise homeworking for the long term
The Estonian Occupational Health and Safety Act applies also to remote work, which means that you are responsible for the work safety of any employee who works from home and you are obliged to organise a risk assessment of the home working environment. According to the recommendations of the Labour Inspectorate, employers must instruct the employees on how to furnish the workplace so that it is safe, on taking breaks, etc. As usual, you are also obliged to keep a record of the employee’s work and rest time and to investigate all occupational accidents.
You are required to cover work-related costs and consequently, employees working from home may ask, for example, for the costs of the Internet connection to be reimbursed to the extent that these costs occurred or have increased in connection with working from home. As the regulation is unclear regarding compensating costs of setting up a home office, we recommend regulating this issue by clear agreement with an employee.
Employees (including those from vulnerable populations) cannot demand working from home if the employer ensures safe work environment. According to the law, an employee may work outside his/her contractual place of performance of work, including at the employee’s home, based on an agreement between employer and the employee. If it has not been agreed that working from home is temporary and only for specified term, the place of performance of work can only later be changed with the employee’s consent.
Author: COBALT Estonia Senior Associate Heili Haabu.