Of interest.

Return of employees to the workplace – victory or challenge?

In connection with the gradual relaxation of restrictive measures taken in the context of an emergency to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Czech Republic, issues related to the restoration of the function of affected areas of social life, including employment, are becoming more and more topical. Employees often want to return to the workplace, and employers are considering at least a partial resumption of normal office operations. What conditions must the employer prepare for employees to ensure a safe return to the standard workplace regime in the Czech Republic?

Legal basis

During the return of employees to the workplace, it is necessary to take into account and keep in mind that the risk of COVID-19 spreading may still persist and certain restrictive measures of the Czech Government and the Czech Ministry of Health remain effective, including among other things wearing respiratory protective equipment anywhere outside the home.

No legal regulation or binding decision directly and comprehensively regulate the rules of conduct of employers and employees in the situation described above. It is always necessary to proceed from general legal regulations, recommendations available from public sources, internal regulations of the employer and, last but not least, the circumstances of a specific case.

According to the relevant provisions of Act No. 262/2006 Coll., the Labour Code (Labour Code), the employer is obliged, among other things, to ensure the safety and health protection of employees (including all natural persons who are at the workplace with his knowledge) at work with regard to risks of possible threat to their lives and health, which relate to the performance of work (Section 101 para. 1 of the Labour Code).

The employer is also obliged to create a safe and non-hazardous working environment and working conditions by a suitable organization of safety and health at work and by taking measures to prevent risks (Section 102 (1) of the Labour Code).

In connection with the current situation, it is also appropriate to remind that the employer is obliged to adapt measures in light of changing circumstances, check their effectiveness and compliance and ensure improvement of the working environment and working conditions (Section 102 paragraph 7 of the Labour Code).

Last but not least, the employer is also obliged to create working conditions for employees that enable the safe performance of work (Section 224 (1) of the Labour Code).

General recommendations for employers

The legal framework described above for dealing with the given situation applies equally to all employers, but there is no doubt that in practice there will be a completely different needs on how to deal with the situation in the workplace, where, for example, work is performed by five employees in individual offices, in a workplace with many employees and the so-called open space, where tens to hundreds of employees can meet during the day, or in a restaurant or an hotel. The movement of the public, guests, visitors and other persons at the workplace will also be important to take into account.

In general, however, the employer could, in the given situation, for the purposes of the most efficient, safe and smooth establishment of conditions for the performance of work at the workplace, proceed according to the following steps.

  • RETURN PLAN – The employer should plan how he wants to and will be able to resume his activities at the workplace (shifts, etc.).
  • PREVENTION – The employer should take and implement preventive measures in relation to the occurrence of the disease at the workplace, incl. provision of adequate facilities and means for maintaining personal hygiene in the workplace (increased cleaning, disinfection, gradual resumption of operations, division into teams / shifts, declaration of employee non-infectivity, limiting the number of people in one office, rules for inviting visits, etc.).
  • RULES OF CONDUCT – The employer should introduce special rules of conduct at the workplace for the duration of the epidemic (personal hygiene, movement around the office, etc.).
  • DOCUMENTATION – The employer should prepare documentation corresponding to the above (internal regulations, instructions, fact sheets, emails, etc.).
  • INFORMATION – Employees returning to the workplace should be adequately informed and trained through the rules of conduct at the workplace, prevention and hygiene procedures and special measures taken.
  • CRISIS DOCUMENTATION – If the employer has not yet introduced crisis documentation, he should certainly do so, in particular documentation for resumption of work from home (home office agreement, internal regulation), creation of an emergency response plan in the workplace (so-called Emergency Reaction Plan) and the creation of a Business Continuity Plan.

Some procedures can be transferred into the workplace’s internal regulations or into an educational documentation or video training for employees to know in advance how they should behave when they return to the workplace. In this context, it is only possible to recommend steps concerning prevention, rules of conduct and crisis documentation in binding ways, i.e. through the internal regulations of the employer.

Practical recommendations for employers

When planning the return of employees to the workplace, the employer should always keep in mind prevention and protection of employees´ health. The basic, albeit often difficult to implement in practice, measure that can effectively reduce the risk of infection is to reduce mutual contact between employees.

The conditions for the home office must be determined in each individual case on the basis of a written agreement between the employee and the employer. At the same time, the employer should, in his own interest, ensure as much work as possible using remote software, provided that it will be possible given the nature and manner of the work at the workplace.

Another option for addressing the return of employees to work while ensuring their health and safety is to divide them into teams that do not meet in the workplace, creating a quasi-shift work, in which half of employees work from home and half from the office. After a certain period of time, they are then replaced, which effectively reduces their mutual contact.

The employer is also entitled to invite the employee to undergo an examination with a provider of occupational health services, or the registered doctor, in particular if this is justified by the nature of the work performed or if the employer has a reasonable suspicion that the employee is not fit to perform the work and subsequently, as a risk prevention measure, not allow such employee to perform work at the workplace until the result of the examination.

At the same time, for the purpose of risk prevention, it remains recommended for the time being for employees to restrict or not plan at all any business trips of both a national and foreign nature, or to set strict rules for such cases.

Last but not least, we would like to remind you that in connection with the above-mentioned steps and procedures, new challenges will often arise in the area of protection of employees’ personal data and other data processed by the employer. In connection with teleworking and home office, increased attention must be paid to the security of such work from the point of view of data protection and the establishment of clear rules for the use of software and response to security threats (fraudulent emails, visiting risky sites, etc.). In addition, it is necessary, for example, to introduce rules for submitting declarations of non-infectivity or collection of more detailed data on health, movement and contact with other persons, therefore do not forget to adequately fulfil obligations under personal data protection legislation (information obligation, legal basis of processing etc.).

Conclusion

Probably still the most effective protection against the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace is the home office work – in a pre-agreed alternative regime. This setting however might not allow employers to control their needs and economic interests of their business.

If the employer decides for the return of the employees to the work, he should establish a return plan, set the scope of preventive measures to prevent the spread of the disease in the workplace and appropriate rules of conduct, introduce appropriate documentation, properly inform employees about all measures taken and possibly prepare crisis documentation for the potential occurrence of diseases in the workplace.

Although all of the recommendations described above undoubtedly represent increased costs for employers to ensure the running of the company, this is a necessary expense, allowing a gradual return to the standard workplace conditions, which is associated with the desirable restoration of other areas of social life affected by the epidemic.

 

If you have any questions on this topic, we are at your disposal.

 

Mgr. Jakub Málek, partner – malek@plegal.cz

Mgr. Tereza Dvořáková, junior lawyer – dvorakova@plegal.cz

Eliška Vetýšková, legal assistant – vetyskova@plegal.cz

 

www.peytonlegal.cz

 

30. 04. 2020

 

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