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Frequently asked questions about coronavirus

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges in working life, and we have aimed to tackle those challenges through cooperative measures. We compiled answers to questions people frequently ask us. If you have any additional questions, please contact the employment relationship counselling services of your union.

Primarily, the pandemic does not affect the obligations of the parties of an employment relationship. Best results can usually be reached in mutual negotiations with the shop steward of the workplace offering the member local support.

Shop steward! If your organisation is initiating co-operation negotiations, file a co-operation negotiations report (in Finnish) so that we can offer you optimal support.

How is my place of work determined during the pandemic?

The regulations concerning the place of work have not changed. What is important is what the parties have agreed upon concerning the place of work. Usually, the employer has the final say in requiring the work to be carried out at the actual place of work. We recommend agreeing on remote work, if possible. If the employer requires the work to be mainly carried out remotely, it is important to agree on specific remote work policies.

If you are part of a risk group as specified by the authorities, we recommend discussing the matter with your employer. The employer is obligated to ensure the occupational health and safety of its employees and take into consideration individual factors impacting the safety of work. We recommend asking the advice of occupational health care services when assessing occupational health and safety.

The employer has announced that I have to travel abroad for work. What should I do?

In a pandemic, the need for travel should be carefully considered. If travel is part of the employee’s duties, they generally cannot refuse work-related travel, even if citing the pandemic as the reason. The basic rule is that the employer’s interpretation of the issue must be complied with until a final decision is reached.

Terms and conditions not known to the employee at the time of agreeing on the matter may apply to travel during a pandemic. In the new situation, it may be necessary to consider whether the terms of contract are reasonable for the employee. If you cannot reach an agreement on travel-related matters locally, even with the help of your shop steward, we recommend contacting the experts of your union.

An employer requiring the employee to travel must ensure the employee’s occupational health and safety during the trip. We recommend reviewing the trip, including any risks related to the trip and the destination, what to do in any exceptional circumstances occurring during the trip as well as the necessary measures to be taken after returning from the trip.

I am returning to Finland from abroad. What should I do?

The website of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare offers detailed information on authoritative recommendations concerning travel. Please take the recommendations seriously. If you have had a business trip and self-quarantine is recommended upon your return, we recommend discussing your quarantine work arrangements with your employer. If your duties allow remote work, this is the recommended option. If remote work is not possible, the employer should compensate the employee for their absence if an absence is required.

My Koronavilkku app tells me I have been exposed to the virus. What should I do?

The alert from the Koronavilkku application guides you to self-quarantine. This is not a quarantine ordered by the authorities and does not include the right to a daily allowance. If you are not specifically contacted by the healthcare authorities, we recommend contacting your employer for more detailed instructions. Your company may already have guidelines for such situations, and you can ask your shop steward for advice on interpreting the guidelines.

What happens if I am quarantined?

If you are placed in quarantine by an authority, you will be entitled to your full salary or a daily allowance paid by Kela, which will cover your lost earnings in full. Everyone placed in quarantine will be given a written decision on their case. The content of the decision determines whether you are entitled to your salary or a daily allowance. Guardians of children under 16 are also entitled to a daily allowance if they are unable to work due to their child being placed in quarantine.

If the employer will pay a salary and the employee is healthy, it is possible to make work arrangements. In such cases, employers must provide employees with appropriate work equipment. If the employer will pay a salary, the employee must be available to the employer for the duration of the quarantine. If no salary is paid, the process is the same as in the case of other unpaid absences.

For the daily allowance application, Kela will require the employer’s statement regarding the loss of income for the payment of daily allowance and a statement regarding the absence, isolation or quarantine of an employee/civil servant/public official issued by the chief physician in charge of infectious diseases of a municipality or hospital district. For more information on the daily allowance, visit the Kela website.

My child has been ordered into quarantine. Can I stay home in order to take care of them?

You are allowed to stay home to look after your child if the child’s condition requires your presence. However, employers are not obligated to pay salary for any absences due to compelling family reasons. The payment of salary may have been agreed on otherwise, for instance, in the applicable collective agreement.

Regarding the potential loss of income, an essential issue is whether the quarantine was ordered by the authorities or if you chose to go into quarantine yourself. If the quarantine was ordered by the authorities, it is possible to receive sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease, subject to certain conditions (more information about the conditions can be found on Kela’s website).

In principle, if the quarantine is voluntary and the employee’s absence is not caused by their child’s illness, the employer is not obligated to pay the employee’s salary for the time of their absence. In such a situation, it is advisable to agree on working remotely, if possible. If this is not possible, the parties can agree on the employee using their incurred hours or the working hours bank, for instance.

A possible interpretation of the Employment Contracts Act enables viewing the situation as a situation in which the employee is unable to work due to a reason outside the control of the company or employee. In such cases, the company is obligated to pay salary for the duration of 14 days. There is no judicial practice regarding this arrangement. The primary course of action is to make arrangements with your employer.

My employer’s financial situation has deteriorated and temporary layoffs are possible. How are temporary layoffs handled during the pandemic?

The employer may consider laying off its employees temporarily if the employer is temporarily unable to offer work. A temporary layoff valid until further notice requires the essential and permanent reduction of the employer’s ability to offer work.

The co-operation negotiation obligation preceding the layoffs as well as the notice period for layoffs, for instance, have been changed due to the exceptional circumstances and are valid until 31 December 2020. The co-operation negotiations preceding the layoffs can now be conducted within five days, while the notice period for layoffs has been reduced to five days as well. Such fixed-term changes that are similar in content have been made to numerous collective agreements.

I have been temporarily laid off. What should I do?

If you have been given a layoff notice, you should register as a jobseeker at the Employment and Economic Development Office on the first day of unemployment at the latest. Earnings-related daily allowance can be applied for in the eService of the Unemployment Fund for Highly Educated two weeks after the beginning of the layoff period. If the layoff period is shorter than two weeks, the daily allowance can only be applied for after the last day of the layoff. More information is available on the Unemployment Fund for Highly Educated website.                                                   

What temporary amendments have been made to the Employment Contracts Act?

The temporary amendments apply to private-sector employers. Therefore, the information below will be interpreted differently if the employer is the state, a municipality, a local government regional authority, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, the Government of Åland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Orthodox Church.

A private-sector employer has the right to cancel the employment contract during the trial period on financial and production-related grounds for dismissal. The exceptional right of cancellation will remain in force until the end of 2020.

During the validity of the temporary amendment, the employer also has the right to temporarily lay off fixed-term employees on grounds specified in the law.

The employer may use the exceptional five-day period of layoff notice if the employer announces the layoff in 2020. In other words, the period of layoff notice may also take place in early 2021.

If the employer dismisses the employee in 2020 on financial and production-based grounds, the employer is obligated to re-employ the employee for nine months after the termination of the employment relationship as specified in the Employment Contracts Act.

There are no employee representatives at our workplace. What should we do?

The selection of employee representatives is now vitally important to enable dialogue between the employees and the employer. Please see the quick guide (in Finnish) and more detailed instructions on how to elect employee representatives.

Employee representative as respondent

During the pandemic, employee representatives may have to address some new issues at the workplace. We have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions below. We recommend contacting the experts of your union for more detailed advice.

Can the employer temporarily lay off employees due to the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic may reduce the employer’s ability to offer work. However, the grounds for temporary layoffs must meet the requirements set in the Employment Contracts Act and potentially the collective agreement. Depending on the number of employees, the employer must carry out co-operation negotiations before making the decision on temporary layoffs. In any case, we recommend discussing the impact of the pandemic on the employer’s operational abilities at the workplace. Taking into consideration the wishes of the represented employees, various leaves may be suggested as an alternative for temporary layoffs. Consult the experts of your union, if necessary.

What type of co-operation negotiations should be carried out at the workplace before making the decision on temporary layoffs?

If at least 20 people work regularly at the workplace, co-operation negotiations must be carried out before making the decision on temporary layoffs. If there are fewer than 20 employees working regularly at the workplace, the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings is not applied. In that case, the grounds for the temporary layoffs must be explained to the employees as specified in the Employment Contracts Act and possibly the collective agreement.

A temporary amendment has been made to the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings to enable a shorter negotiation period if the employer is considering temporary layoffs. Valid until the end of 2020, the amendment stipulates that the fulfilment of the negotiation obligation requires five days of negotiations. If the negotiations have been started while the temporary amendment was in force, the employer may use the shorter negotiation period unless otherwise agreed upon between the parties.

The employer suggests new, local agreements due to the pandemic. What should we do?

The pandemic may cause the need to review the company’s remote work guidelines or travel policy, for example. If you are unsure about the content of the proposed changes, please contact the experts of your union.

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