26/02/2020

Coronavirus Epidemic: FAQ for Finnish Employers

The coronavirus (COVID-19) that originated in China has become an epidemic that countries are attempting to contain by restricting movement. The situation raises a number of questions at workplaces. What happens if employees are quarantined abroad? Can companies lay off or terminate employees if the epidemic harms their business? We answer some frequently asked questions below.

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Absence from Work Permitted, but Not Necessarily Paid

If an employee misses work, for example, due to a cancelled flight, quarantine or other mandatory reason relating to the epidemic, the absence is permissible, and employment law sanctions cannot be imposed on the employee due to it.

However, even when there is an acceptable reason for it, the absence is not necessarily paid. Employers are not legally obligated to pay wages or salary for the duration of an absence that is due to a quarantine or isolation imposed by the authorities unless the employee themself is sick.

Though employers are not obligated to pay, some employers have continued to pay their employees if they have been caught by a quarantine while on a business trip. If Kela grants the employee an infectious disease allowance due to a quarantine, the allowance will be paid to the employer to the extent the employer has paid the employee during the absence. The allowance covers the full loss of income and has no deductible period.

Annual Holiday Accrues During Quarantine

From the perspective of the accrual of annual holiday, a quarantine imposed by the authorities is equated to being at work, and employees earn holiday normally for the duration of the quarantine. The same rule applies if an employee is placed in isolation, for example, due to a family member having fallen ill.

Layoffs Require Cooperation Negotiations

Some companies have been forced to consider layoffs and other cost-saving measures due to the disruptions the epidemic has caused to their business. However, an epidemic is not considered a particularly weighty and unforeseeable event that would allow employers to take action without cooperation negotiations. It is important for companies to remember to start cooperation procedures as soon as they begin planning measures that could lead to layoffs or terminations.

Update Your Company’s Instructions

Employers should provide their employees instructions on what to do if they fall ill. For example, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) recommends that employees should be allowed to take a sick leave of a few days without a doctor’s certificate during the epidemic.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act obligates employers to ensure the safety of employees even when on overseas business trips. Employers need to keep an eye on authority instructions and travel restrictions and update their workplace instructions as needed. It is worth making sure whether your company’s travel insurance covers additional costs caused by the coronavirus. Employees going on business trips should be given detailed instructions on what to do if they believe they have been infected during the trip or after returning home.

It is also a good idea to review your remote working practices and consider how to arrange work if the epidemic were to lead to a widespread quarantine in Finland.