ICLG to Employment & Labour Law 2021 – Response to COVID-19
10.1 Are there any temporary special measures in place to support employees and businesses during the COVID-19 emergency?
In order to support employees and businesses during the COVID-19 emergency, the Government of Malta introduced the COVID Wage Supplement benefit. This benefit which shall be offered until the end of 2021, provides a basic wage cover to be paid by the employers to employees. However, as of 1 July 2021, those businesses whose financial position is the least affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be eligible for such benefit.
Businesses which are not eligible for the COVID Wage Supplement may also benefit from other schemes of assistance currently being offered by the Government of Malta, including the Restart Incentive Scheme 2021, the Change to Grow 2021 the Smart and Sustainable Investment Scheme 2021. Businesses which will remain closed beyond 10 May 2021, will also be eligible for a one-time cash grant of €1,000.
10.2 What steps can employers take in response to reduced demand for services/ reduced workload as a result of the pandemic?
In the event of a reduced demand for services/reduced workload, employers may first and foremost seek to adapt to the current market needs. In this case businesses may resort to the incentive of Change to Grow 2021, launched by the Government of Malta with the aim of providing grants to businesses for the advisory stage and the implementation stage of any changes to a company which improve its efficiency and/or green credentials such as the digitisation of the business process.
If possible, when businesses are ordered by law to close due to the pandemic, they should seek ways in which such business may continue operating remotely and thus, continue providing a service. In order to deal with a reduced workload, employers may also seek to come to an agreement with their employees to reduce the employees’ working hours so that all employees may be retained in employment. Employers may also hold discussions with their employees to discuss the possibility of employees taking any paid vacation leave during periods in which businesses may be ordered to close or are suffering from a reduced demand for services/workload and ultimately, the possibility of unpaid leave.
It is important to note that employers may never reduce the wages of their employees, even if such reduction is made with the agreement of the employees. In order to ensure that employees continue receiving a basic wage cover, even when it is not possible for businesses to provide this to their employees, the Government of Malta introduced the COVID Wage Supplement scheme. Businesses may also make use of other incentives currently made available to them such as the Restart Incentive Scheme 2021 and the Smart and Sustainable Investment Scheme 2021.
Ultimately, if it becomes impossible for an employer to continue operating with the usual workforce in light of the reduced demand for services/workload, then an employer might have to resort to individual or collective redundancies of employees.
10.3 What are employees’ rights to sick pay?
Employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be considered sick and therefore, they will be eligible for their statutory rights to sick leave and payment. Should an employee fall ill while s/he is following a quarantine order, the employee is to be put on sick leave. Quarantine leave shall then resume as soon as the employee no longer tests positive for COVID-19, if a quarantine order still applies.
The employee should present medical certificates throughout the period of sickness in all situations, even after the paid sick leave has been exhausted.
10.4 Do employees have a right to work from home if this is possible or can they be required to return physically to the workplace?
Employees do not have a right to work from home, unless such employees have a Teleworking Agreement in place or have otherwise reached an agreement with the employer. Employees will therefore have to return physically to the workplace, should this be requested of them.
10.5 How has employment-related litigation been affected by the pandemic?
As a result of the pandemic, there has been an increase in employment-related litigation cases dealing with unjustified dismissals, non-receipt of wages, abuse of power and breaches of employment conditions. Redundancies, both individual and collective, have also been on the increase.
Furthermore, sitting before the Industrial Tribunal were suspended for several months during the pandemic. This has caused a huge delay in the hearing of cases, whereby parties are having to wait for a much longer period to receive a decision on the outcome of the case or to receive compensation, when the latter is applicable.
This article forms part of the ICLG to Employment and Labour Law 2021 publication.
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