1. Emergency Measures
Decrees, orders or guidelines in effect and pertaining to reopening facilities.
Optimal approach to keep track of the latest updates.
- Official government websites, such as https://www.gov.pl/web/koronawirus, where the Government recommendations are published, as well as contact with the National Labour Inspectorate, the Main Sanitary Inspectorate or the Social Insurance Company. One can also visit the Main Sanitary Inspectorate’s website: https://gis.gov.pl/.
2. State Aid
Government subsidies and special relief resources allocated to support employers, and workers, in their efforts to maintain employment and pull through the crisis.
Current anti-crisis regulations introduce various forms of state support, including:
- Co-financing of the remuneration for employees affected by economic downtime or reduced working time;
- Allowance for self-employed and workers (except for employees);
- Payment of social security contributions taken over by the state, postponed, divided into instalments or cancelled;
- Additional care allowance;
- Temporary suspension of loan instalment payments;
- Non-returnable loan up to PLN 5,000 for micro entrepreneurs.
3. Health and Safety Measures
Requirements mandated by law or any official guidance.
- Employers must organise tasks in such a way as to ensure safe and hygienic working conditions on the one hand, and on the other – to ensure the continuity of the establishment’s operations. At the beginning of May, the Chief Labour Inspector issued recommendations regarding return to work. Accordingly, the employer should, inter alia: re-assess occupational risk taking into account new types of risk, including mental health and psychosocial risks, create an action plan including appropriate security measures, and provide appropriate prevention measures.
- Moreover, based on the Council of Ministers’ Decree, employers are obliged to provide employees with disposable gloves or hand disinfectants and to ensure a distance of at least 1.5 m between workplaces. Employees are also required to cover their nose and mouth with pieces of clothing, masks or helmets while providing direct customer service.
Measures typically implemented by employers and the associated legal risks, limitations, obligations and issues to consider.
- In most workplaces, frequent disinfection of surfaces and rooms takes place. Moreover, although it is not based on any legal regulation or guidelines of the authorities, many workplaces introduced epidemiological control surveys for employees, workers and visitors or temperature checks. The obligation of self-control checks for the employees is also a popular solution among employers in Poland.
Policies and procedures for telework once the business reopens.
- In Polish labour law there are two types of work from home. The first type is “telework”, that may be introduced on the basis of an agreement with trade unions, or when there are no trade unions at the facility – in the regulations consulted with employee representatives. Telework should also be agreed for individual employees in their employment contracts. Alternatively, irrespective of the agreement with trade unions or the regulations, telework might be also introduced with regard to individual employees upon their request.
- Based on the provisions of law, in the case of telework, the employer is responsible for OHS conditions, as well as for providing the employee with all the necessary equipment (unless the employee has agreed to use their own equipment (BYOD) in exchange for a cash equivalent) and technical support. The employer also bears the costs of maintaining and operating the equipment. The employer determines the principles of protection for the data transferred to the teleworker and if necessary carries out an instruction training in this area. The employee confirms in writing that they have become familiar with the data protection principles.
- The second type of work from home – “remote work” was officially introduced into the Polish labour law by the Act of 2nd March 2020 on Combating COVID-19. It is meant to be a flexible alternative to the overregulated telework and indeed became very popular among employers and employees and still remains an option. However the currently binding regulations do not specify the conditions for performance during remote work. Therefore some claim that the rules of telework should apply accordingly in this case. It is recommended that in such a case employers collect employee statements that they have appropriate OHS conditions to perform remote work and they undertake to keep confidentiality of data processed at work. Arguably employers should provide employees with the necessary equipment and refund for the operating costs.
5. Managing COVID-19-Related Employee Issues
Management of quarantine, childcare and medical leave for employees affected by COVID-19.
- Quarantine: If a quarantined employee is able to work and performs work from home, they are entitled to full remuneration for the work done. However, based on the applicable regulations, all persons in quarantine may be treated as temporally unable to work and therefore may apply for sick pay or sick benefit.
- Medical leave for employees affected by COVID-19: A person infected with COVID-19 virus is qualified as unable to work due to illness. Therefore they are entitled to sick pay or sick benefit.
- Childcare: Parents and caregivers of disabled children up to 18 years old are entitled to an additional care allowance in case of closing of a day care centre, children’s club, nursery, school or other institution to which the child attends, or the impossibility of the daily caregiver or nanny to care for the child due to COVID-19.
- Other parents and caregivers are entitled to a care allowance based on general rules.
Employees who fear infection and refuse to work.
- Employees are not allowed to refuse to work due to fear of infection. Of course, if the type of duty allow for it, such employees can agree with the employer to provide remote work. If employee refuses to work in fear of infection, they may suffer disciplinary consequences, including dismissal.
Disclosure of employees who are infected.
- There are no specific legal provisions concerning informing of staff in case of a confirmed infection. However it is considered that in such case the employer should not inform the whole staff about the identity of the infected person. Only those who had direct contact with the infected and were estimated to be in a risk group should be informed that somebody (but again – without disclosing the identity) in their surrounding could be or is infected. These employees might, for example, be instructed to perform remote work or to watch themselves for symptoms.
- There is no explicit legal basis for employers to inform the sanitary inspection about COVID-19 cases. It should rather be assumed that since employers have no legal obligation to examine employees in this respect, the sanitary inspection should inform employers about COVID-19 cases, rather than vice versa. Of course, if the employer has doubts about a suspected or detected case, they may contact the sanitary inspection.
6. Cost-Reduction Strategies
To what extent can employers implement the following cost-reduction strategies as a result of COVID, and what are the primary limitations on each?
Employees may be sent to unused leave. For this time they are entitled to the equivalent of vacation leave.
If justified by the employer’s financial situation, an agreement on the application of less favourable terms of employment than resulting from the employees’ employment contracts may be concluded. The Agreement should be concluded by the employer and the trade union representing employees, and if there is no such trade union – by employee representatives.
There are no special redundancy rules concerning current COVID-19 crisis. General rules arising from The Act of 13th March 2003 on Specific Terms and Conditions for Terminating Employment Relationships with Employees for Reasons Not Related to the Employees shall apply. The Act refers to employers who hire at least 20 employees. On the basis of this Act, employees are entitled to redundancy pay. Moreover, if the number of people to be redundant exceeds the limit from the Act, the group redundancy procedure should be applied.
Temporary facility closure, results in work stoppage at a plant. This means that employees are entitled to remuneration from the time of readiness for work. Employers who have suffered a drop in economic turnover as a result of work stoppage caused by COVID-19 may apply for subsidies aimed at protection of workplaces.