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Frequently asked questions about coronavirus

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The situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak is very exceptional and it should be taken seriously by everyone in order to preserve the safety and health of all of us. Nevertheless, employers do not have any special powers that they do not possess under normal circumstances. The best possible result can be achieved by working together. Everyone must follow the instructions issued by authorities and employers must ensure that their workplace instructions are updated accordingly.

We have created a list of questions asked by the members of YTN and its affiliates. If you have any additional questions regarding the situation, please contact the employment relationship counselling services of your union.

Can the employer unilaterally discontinue a temporary layoff?
Does annual holiday accumulate during a temporary layoff?
What does a layoff mean?
Are fringe benefits available during a temporary layoff?
What changes to the labour law has the coronavirus brought?
Has the procedure for temporary layoffs been sped up?
What is the procedure for temporary layoffs in companies with fewer than 20 employees?
What if there is no shop steward or any other personnel representative at the working place?
Can my employer make me work from home?
Is it possible to start working from home on my own initiative due to the risk of infection?
What happens if I am quarantined?
My child has been ordered into quarantine. Can I stay home in order to take care of them?
What are the possible effects of my absence on my annual holiday?
The company is struggling financially due to the current situation, what are the possible scenarios?
How can I guarantee my income if I contract coronavirus?
Can my employer tell me to carry my work equipment on my free time?
Should I travel for business?
I am about to return or I have recently returned from a business trip abroad
I have returned from a trip abroad and my employer is telling me to stay home, am I entitled to my regular salary?

Questions answered by shop stewards
My employer wants to lay off people due to the situation caused by the virus
Does the situation caused by coronavirus count as adequate grounds for applying the crisis clause of the collective agreement?
I am unsure how to act on my employer’s suggestions in these circumstances

 

Can my employer make me work from home?

As a general rule, no, but in these exceptional circumstances, it is advisable to try to agree on a solution. The employer must provide you with a location where you can work if, for one reason or another, you are unable to work from home. Of course, not all tasks can even be performed remotely.

Is it possible to start working from home on my own initiative due to the risk of infection?

Arrangements concerning working from home depend on the guidelines provided by your employer. You are not allowed to work from home simply because you have decided to do so. YTN recommends working from home whenever it is possible.

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, they must be available 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

·        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.

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.

What are the possible effects of my absence on my annual holiday?

According to the Annual Holidays Act (chapter 2, section 7, paragraph 4), the days during which an employee is absent due to an order issued by the authorities aimed at preventing a disease from spreading are considered to be equivalent of days at work.
Consequently, the days during which the employee is unable to work, as well as the days during which the employee is isolated in order to prevent the disease from spreading if a family member has contracted an infectious disease, are considered to be equivalent of days at work.

As a general rule, annual leave is incurred whenever the employer is obligated to pay salary to the employee.

The company is struggling financially due to the current situation, what are the possible scenarios?

If an employee is unable to work due to a reason the employer has control over, such as material supply disruptions, the employee is entitled to their full salary for the duration of the disruption, provided that the employee is available to the employer and ready to work if required.

The employer may also consider laying off its employees temporarily if the employer is temporarily unable 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 currently 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.

Employees who have been given a lay-off notice should register as jobseekers 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 for two weeks from the beginning of the lay-off period. If the lay-off period is shorter than two weeks, the daily allowance can only be applied for after the last day of the lay-off. More information is available on the Unemployment Fund for Highly Educated website.

How can I guarantee my income if I contract coronavirus?

Employees, civil servants and public officials who have contracted coronavirus are entitled to sick pay for the duration of their incapacity for work as in any other case of illness. The obligation to pay sick pay is defined in legislation and the collective agreement of the industry.
If an employee has contracted coronavirus and a chief physician in charge of infectious diseases of a municipality or a hospital district has ordered them to stay home for isolation, the employee must inform their employer immediately.

Can my employer tell me to carry my work equipment on my free time?

As a general rule, no, but if this is the employer’s recommendation, you should consider very carefully if this actually causes any inconveniencies. If you cannot return to your workplace due to the situation caused by coronavirus, you may benefit from having access to your work equipment in your current location.

Should I travel for business?

At the moment, the authority regulations concerning travel can change quickly. In some cases, a person returning from abroad can be ordered into quarantine by the authorities. A recommendation of voluntary quarantine after a trip abroad also applies to many countries. More up-to-date information about the situation can be found on the THL website.

The necessity of travelling for work should be carefully considered. In many companies, the amount of travel has been significantly reduced. If your employer says that you should travel for work, you should review all matters concerning the trip, including any risks related to the trip, 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 about to return or I have recently returned from a business trip abroad

It is advisable to follow the authorities’ recommendations and regulations related to quarantine. The employer may order the employee to stay at home after returning from abroad. Many workplaces may also have their own new practices in place for such situations. You should work from home if such an arrangement is possible. If this is not possible, you should agree with your employer on the absence and how to make up for the absence.

I have returned from a trip abroad and my employer is telling me to stay home, am I entitled to my regular salary?

If your employer says that you should stay home after a trip, the employer is obligated to pay you a full salary. Depending on your job description, you may be obligated to work from home. It is advisable to make separate work arrangements in times of crisis.

If you decide to stay home on the basis of a recommendation issued by an authority without the request of your employer, the employer is not obligated to pay you salary. When possible, it is recommended to agree on working remotely or utilising other types of absence options (e.g. flexitime or the working hours bank).

Questions answered by shop stewards

Shop stewards may also be contacted in matters concerning coronavirus and their duties. A few examples of possible questions are listed below:

My employer wants to lay off people due to the situation caused by the virus

The situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak can be a valid argument for cutting the costs of a company on a temporary basis. In such cases, it is recommended to hold co-operation negotiations in order to determine alternative ways to avoid and transfer costs.

Applying exceptional annual holiday periods should be discussed, as well as everyone’s personal willingness to go on a voluntary unpaid leave. Shop stewards should aim to help companies overcome this exceptional situation without any terminations of contracts. Excessive measures should not be agreed to even in these circumstances, however.

Has the procedure for temporary layoffs been sped up?

Yes, in all Federation of Professional and Managerial Staff (YTN) sectors that have a valid collective labour agreement, the period of notice for layoffs is temporarily shortened to five days. In addition, the minimum duration of cooperation negotiations regarding temporary layoffs will also be shortened to five days. These changes to the collective labour agreements also apply to companies that do not belong to a union.

All Federation of Professional and Managerial Staff (YTN) parties have agreed with the relevant employer associations on the implementation of temporary changes to collective labour agreements concerning the negotiation periods and periods of notice of temporary layoffs. As for the members of Service Sector Employers Palta, in the sectors where several parties are involved in the collective labour agreements, the entry into force of the changes requires the acceptance of all parties. It is still possible to determine a different period of notice for temporary layoffs with a local agreement. Further information

The changes are temporary and they will be valid until 31 December 2020 or no longer than the validity of the labour legislation changes implemented due to the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus.

What changes to the labour law has the coronavirus brought?

In addition to the aforementioned expedited temporary layoff procedure agreed to in collective labour agreements, the following changes came into force on 1 April, and they will be valid until 31 December 2020. The employer has a right to lay off employees with a temporary employment relationship under the same conditions as they would lay off employees who have a permanent employment contract. The regulation regarding the probationary period has been changed in such a way that the employment contract can be terminated also on economic or production-related grounds during the probationary period. Moreover, the obligation to take back an employee who has been temporarily laid off will be extended to 9 months (normally 4–6 months depending on the duration of the employment relationship).

What is the procedure for temporary layoffs in companies with fewer than 20 employees?

Even in a company with fewer than 20 employees, it is not possible to temporarily lay off personnel without negotiations of some kind.

If the regular number of people in an employment relationship in the company is fewer than 20, the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings does not apply to the company. In this case, instead of the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings, the temporary layoffs in the company are conducted according to the Employment Contracts Act (chapter 5, section 3) or the collective labour agreement observed by the company. If you work in a company with fewer than 20 employees and a collective labour agreement is observed, check the content of the collective labour agreement.

According to the Employment Contracts Act, the employer should present the employee or their representative with an advance explanation of the temporary layoff. After presentation of the explanation, the employer must give employees an opportunity to be heard.

After the opportunity to be heard, the employer must give a layoff notice. In a normal situation the layoff notice should be given a minimum of 14 days before the temporary layoff begins. However, The Federation of Professional and Managerial Staff (YTN) sectors have temporarily agreed on a shortened period of notice for temporary layoffs. The layoff notice must be given a minimum of 5 days before the temporary layoff begins. A fixed-term provision concerning a five-day layoff notice period has also been added to the Employment Contracts Act.

If the notice cannot be delivered in person, it can be delivered by letter or by electronic means, observing the same period of notice. The notice has to include the grounds for the layoff, the date of commencement and the duration or estimated duration of the temporary layoff.

What does a layoff mean?

Temporary layoff refers to a suspension of work and payment of salary initiated by the employer while the terms of the employment relationship stay otherwise effective. Temporary layoff can be valid until further notice or for a fixed period of time. In any case, the objective is a temporary solution.

Are fringe benefits available during a temporary layoff?

A fringe benefit is a benefit provided by the employer in forms other than money. Fringe benefits are part of the salary. The most typical fringe benefits include, for instance, company-paid telephone, free or subsidised meals, accommodation or a company car.

During a temporary layoff, the salary is not paid. As fringe benefits are part of the salary, they are not available to the employee either. As a rule, the employee is not entitled to fringe benefits during a temporary layoff.

However, a different agreement is possible. It is possible to agree with the employer that the company-paid telephone, for instance, could be available also during the temporary layoff. The parties can agree that the company-paid telephone can be used and the employee pays the employer for its use, for instance. Nevertheless, this requires an agreement: the employee cannot use fringe benefits without agreeing on it with the employer.

Accommodation is an exception when compared to other fringe benefits. The employee is entitled to use the accommodation during a temporary layoff without a separate agreement. The employer can collect reasonable rent for the accommodation for the duration of the temporary layoff but is not required to do so. Rent can be collected starting from the beginning of the second calendar month after the end of the salary payment obligation.

If the employee receives an adjusted earnings-related unemployment allowance during the temporary layoff, fringe benefits are taken into account in the allowance amount. In this case, it is possible that fringe benefits decrease the allowance.

Can the employer unilaterally discontinue a temporary layoff?

The employer can only discontinue a temporary layoff by ending it entirely. This can only be done for fixed-term temporary layoffs. An employee temporarily laid off until further notice must be notified about the start of work at least seven days in advance, unless otherwise agreed. When an employee is temporarily laid off until further notice, an estimate of the layoff’s duration must be included in the layoff notice.

A fixed-term layoff will only end on the date indicated in the layoff notice unless the employer and the employee agree on returning to work at an earlier date. The employer cannot unilaterally discontinue a fixed-term temporary layoff even by ending it entirely.

Does annual holiday accumulate during a temporary layoff?

In general, annual holiday is accumulated in full during short temporary layoffs. According to the Annual Holidays Act, a temporary layoff is considered equal to working for a period of up to 30 days at a time, after which no holiday is accumulated.

Collective labour agreements also include provisions regarding the accumulation of holidays during temporary layoffs.

What if there is no shop steward or any other personnel representative at the working place?

In the absence of personnel representatives, it is particularly important to select them now, in order to ensure dialogue between the personnel and the employer. Pleasee see the instructions (in Finnish).

Does the situation caused by coronavirus count as adequate grounds for applying the crisis clause of the collective agreement?

The situation may well provide adequate grounds for applying the crisis clause and initiating collective agreement adjustment negotiations. In such circumstances, agreements on possible measures may be achieved more quickly than through co-operation negotiations. This alternative should be presented to the employer if they are considering the possibility of initiating co-operation negotiations.

I am unsure how to act on my employer’s suggestions in these circumstances

Please contact the employment relationship counselling of your YTN affiliate union. Let’s overcome this situation together!

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