COVID-19, most commonly known as the Coronavirus, spreads at a rapid rate around the world, and now also in Malta. Employers and employees are consequently left with a multitude of questions as to how to tackle this situation appropriately. Taking on a “business as usual” attitude can prove to be quite difficult, especially when there are no fixed guidelines in place which may be followed in such circumstances.
The guiding principle in the current situation is to take all the necessary precautionary measures to safeguard the health of employers, employees and clients. This is an obligation imposed by our laws, as Article 6 of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act, Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta, states that
6.(1) It shall be the duty of an employer to ensure the health and safety at all times of all persons who may be affected by the work being carried out for such employer.
The implication of this clause is that the employer is not only responsible for maintaining a healthy, clean and safe working place, such as with the provision of hand sanitisers made available for both the employees and customers, but is also responsible for ensuring that all employees are healthy and do not impose any risk of infecting other employees or customers. It is advisable that employers set out clear policies and guidelines in relation to the COVID-19, in line with information provided by the health authorities, and which provide instructions such as when employees are not to call in for work due to a suspected infection; how to keep the work space clean; and how contact with clients and customers is to be carried out.
As schools shall be officially closed as from tomorrow, and with an increasing number of people are required to be under quarantine, it is also advisable for employers to review their vacation leave policies and perhaps implement special rules which cater for the current situation. Therefore, additional days of leave may be granted in the circumstances, and a shorter notice period for vacation leave than is usually the norm at the particular place of work may also be adopted. Employers may also discuss with their employees the possibility of a work from home policy, if the specific place of work allows for this, whereby parents or employees under quarantine may be provided with the necessary tools to continue carrying out their work from home, without having to make use of their sick leave or vacation leave, with flexible hours.
In the case that an employer has not set out any of these policies, then it is important for employees to keep in mind that they may opt for Urgent Family Leave Entitlement, in the case that their children or any close relative needs their urgent care and assistance. The urgent family leave entitlement allows employees to take a total of fifteen (15) hours of leave, which hours although taken from the total annual leave entitlement, may be availed of with immediate effect upon request. Conversely, parents may also avail themselves of Parental Leave so as to take care of their children under eight (8) years of age. Each parent is allowed four (4) months of unpaid parental leave per child and therefore, this is another option parents may resort to, to take care of their children whilst not attending school.
Ultimately, we must all cooperate and take all possible precautionary measures to ensure a healthy and safe environment, especially at the place of work for the benefit of the entire society. Please keep in mind that the National COVID-19 Helpline is 111.
For further information regarding employment law rights and obligations, you may contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org