Changes in Labor Laws Due to the Coronavirus

Emily Kuhnert March 19, 2020

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) takes its toll on the world, there has been a lot of uncertainty regarding labor laws as the world faces this unprecedented health crisis. One of the major concerns is the ability of companies to ensure that their employees are staying healthy whilst being able to continue to work remotely.

Many countries have taken various measures in order to stop the spread of the virus through the workplace.  However, companies are facing tough decisions when it comes to continuing their operations. Labor laws that especially relate to unemployment, paid time off, and sick leave have come into question and countries are making special exceptions to help relieve employers and employees during this time.

We’ve gathered some of the different measures that countries have taken in order to help ensure that employment is running as smoothly as possible during this time.

United Kingdom

Usually, sick leave benefits in the United Kingdom are paid out to the employee from the fourth day of sickness.  This has been changed so that employees are able to receive this benefit from the first day of sickness.  Employees are still required to produce a medical certificate from the 7th day of sick leave.

Italy

In Italy, the government has made it easier for employees to work remotely through what is called “smart working.” Usually, employees can work from home only if both the employee and employer agree and a written agreement is in place.  Under new emergency measures, no such agreement is required; the employer must simply notify the employee and provide information on how their work must be conducted remotely.  The employer must notify the Italian Labor Authorities and for now, this arrangement is available until July 31, 2020 but is subject to change.

If an employee is absent due to the coronavirus, normal sick leave applies.  However, if the employee is in quarantine, s/he is considered to be unable to perform their duties or force majeure.  In this case, both the employee and employer are not required to fulfill their duties (the employer does not have to pay remuneration and the employee does not have to work).  If this happens, it is possible for the employee to use their vacation days or take an unpaid leave of absence.

For employees who are forced to go on unpaid leave due to a company’s cessation of activity, the government can reimburse employee wages through the Wage Guarantee Fund (CIG). Employees can receive up to 80% of their regular wages through CIG.

Australia

Like the United Kingdom, Australia, has announced that the one week wait for sick leave pay is waived during this pandemic, and employees can begin to receive sick pay from the first day of illness.

France

If an employee in France has a child under the age of 16 and the employee is not able to work from home due to school closure or if they have a child that is under quarantine, the employee is entitled to compensation called “arrêt de travail.”  The employer must fill out necessary forms from the date of the school closure.  The employee will receive a daily allowance until the school reopens.  However, only one parent is entitled to claim this allowance.

United States

In the US, amendments to the Family and Medical Leave Act have been made to allow an employee who has been employed for at least 30 days to be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave and can be used if a family member has been exposed and requires care, if an employee is in quarantine, or if a child’s school has been closed.   After 2 weeks of paid leave, the employer must pay at least 2/3 of the employee’s regular pay.  However, this only applies to companies with less than 500 employees and government employees.

In addition, the US is looking into companies being able to reduce the number of hours of work for an employee instead of laying them off.  This way, employees would still benefit from a partial salary and would be able to receive partial unemployment benefits to supplement for any wage loss due to shortened hours.

Another measure the US has taken by introducing the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act which would give employees 2 weeks paid sick leave at 100% of their regular wages if the employee is in quarantine or needs to take preventative measures against the coronavirus.  If the employee needs to care for a family member that is sick, pay rate is 2/3 of their normal salary.  For hourly workers, this benefit would allow an employee to take paid leave for the same number of hours they would normally work in a work week.