The global economic crisis raises a number of legal issues and ethical dilemmas.
Together with global economic crisis, we are facing a fully new dilemma: to work or not to work… Jokes are far away here. Both, employer and employee can find themselves front of the choice: to risk one’s life or to risk the business/job. The survey, recently undertaken by Company Debt Ltd, has revealed, that working under coronavirus contracting treat scares the community. (Read more at: Business Help for Coronavirus (COVID-19))
So, where goes the border for the employees in the risk groups? It seems, that at the moment their jobs are the matter of employer’s goodwill. Legislation differs among EU countries greatly.
It is not possible to move all the jobs to the remote mode. There are cashiers and shelving personal, couriers, postmen, pharmacists, factory workers, who are supposed to attend and interact with other people. Pregnancy, high age, or a basic illness, that does not normally affect their working abilities, but puts people at risk only because of the corona pandemic, can become a problem. Where does the border go? And who covers the expenses in the end?
Unless the person is under the Hippocratic Oaths or serviceman, the employer cannot force an employee to risk their health or life on the workplace. However, there is a clear contradiction: is coronafobia enough good reason to justify not appearing at the workplace while not being at risk otherwise?
When the employee is at risk, such fears may be justified. Borderline cases such as asthma, diabetes, high age, pregnancy, morbid obesity (BMI over 40) and daily smoking are more complicated. Admittedly, if a person was once got the position, his or her state of health cannot legally be an obstacle to perform the job. Can the employer force the employee to attend even if the coronavirus scares them? And can the refusal be sanctioned?
Finnish law forces an employee to seek medical proof for incapacity. However, in this case, the job is anyway gone. If a doctor determines that the person is unable to perform the job due to a medical condition, the contract will be terminated. Right now, access to a medical services is more that tricky: healthcare has other things to deal with. It can take months to get the diagnose. How to survive those months in the terminal circumstances: coronavirus on one side and employer on the other.
We’ll see how it’s going to work in practice. It would be nice to have some some words on the matter from official sources, for example the occupational and healthcare authorities. But they keep silence. How should such a conflict of interest be resolved on the spot?
In this situation, the employer is expected to be flexible and should invest into personal protective equipment. On the other hand, the employer can not require any flexibility from the employee (at least under Finnish labour law).
The diversity in labour regulations in Europe is enormous. In Estonia, for example, an employer can unilaterally reduce wages by up to 30% if the workload changes significantly. So, if there is no work, there will be no full salary even if one has to stay at the workplace. In many countries, such as Portugal, workers are on lay out for as long as the company re-starts keeping 60% of their wages for 60 days. Otherwise, there would be no businesses there alive after one winter. In practice, that means that during the winter season, people are freezing in their homes, all on their own expense, and waiting for spring to come.
At the moment, all costs arising from the corona pandemic fall onto entrepreneurship. Insurance companies washed their hands of the case, citing the State of Emergency (it was in that small text that no one ever reads). Governments are shrugging their shoulders and planning a few euros as grants.
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