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The ten most frequently asked employment law questions regarding the coronavirus

The coronavirus has the Netherlands and the rest of the world in its grip. As of March 12 2020, additional measures apply that are also relevant to employers. Since the number of infections in the Netherlands is rapidly increasing, we will answer the ten most frequently asked employment law questions regarding the coronavirus in this blog.

  1. Can employers force their employees to work from home?
    As of 12 March 2020, the authorities advise employees to work from home whenever possible. Employers may obligate their employers to do so in these circumstances. It must of course be possible for the employees in question to work from home. Also, the employer must ensure that the obligations under working conditions and working hours legislation are observed also at home. Employees who show any symptoms, such as a runny nose, coughing and fever, are required to stay at home.
  2. What precautions must employers take against the coronavirus?
    Employers must protect the health and safety of their employees. Employers are therefore expected to protect their employees as far as possible against infection with the coronavirus. Employers will have to take precautions for that purpose. As of 12 March 2020, assemblies at work that are attended by more than 100 persons are no longer permitted. Other precautions may include distributing disinfecting hand gel to employees, giving hygiene instructions and advising employees against travelling to risk areas.
  3. Can employers obligate employees to take leave?
    No, that is not possible. Employers cannot obligate employees to take leave.
  4. Must employers continue to pay their employees’ salaries if they are required to remain in quarantine?
    Yes, in principle employers must continue to pay the salaries of employees who are required to remain in quarantine. If employees who cannot or may not work from home nevertheless stay at home because they are afraid of being infected with the coronavirus at work, the obligation to continue to pay their salaries does not apply.
  5. May employers prohibit employees from travelling to risk areas in their private time?
    No, that is not possible in principle. Employers may of course inform employees in writing about risk areas and advise them not to travel there. They can state, for instance, that if employees nevertheless travel to a risk area, the consequences, if any, are at their risk.
  6. May employers force employees to submit to a coronavirus test?
    No, only a company doctor may do so. The privacy rules continue to apply. The coronavirus has not changed them.
  7.  Can employers get financial support to pay wages?
    With effect from 1 March 2020, Employers may apply for the new temporary Employment Bridging Emergency Fund  (Noodfonds Overbrugging Werkgelegenheid, or NOW), which provides for financial support for employers to pay their employees’ wages during the corona crisis. Companies that expect a turnover loss of at least 20% may claim a compensation for their wage costs for a period of 3 months. This 3 months’ period may be extended for another period of 3 months. Employers may claim a maximum of 90% of their wage bill, depending on how much turnover they  lost. In order to be eligible for this financial support, employers must promise that they will not dismiss employees for economic reasons during the period in which they receive the support.
  8. Are employees entitled to leave if the schools of their children close due to the coronavirus?
    Yes, in that case employees are entitled to short-term emergency leave. Emergency leave applies to urgent, extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances. During that leave, employers are required to continue to pay the salaries of the employees in question. If a collective bargaining agreement applies, it may include different or additional provisions. Emergency leave may last from a few hours to a few days. It is therefore not a long-term solution.
  9. May employees refuse to come to work for fear of the coronavirus?
    Employers may require of their employees that they work at the location agreed on in the employment contract, for instance. Employees may therefore not simply refuse to go to work for fear of the coronavirus. If employees nevertheless stay at home, that may constitute refusal to perform work. Refusal to perform work may be grounds for summary dismissal. That is of course otherwise if the employees are not allowed to come to work because they have symptoms.
  10. May employees refuse to travel abroad to attend a business meeting?
    That depends on the travel advice issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Employers are required to make a careful decision in this case. In the case of a business trip to a red risk area, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against travelling there. In the case of an orange risk area, the business trip must be essential.

If you have any questions about the employment law consequences of the coronavirus, please contact our partner employment law Elias van Kampen at elias.vankampen@actlegal-fort.com.