Employee’s Rights & COVID-19: What Can Employees Expect

Erez Greenberg January 17, 2021

Has COVID-19 changed what employees are entitled to expect and receive, both in the United States and abroad? Let’s take a deep dive on three key issues that have become topics of conversation since the outbreak of the pandemic, and discuss how they are viewed through the lens of employee rights.

Are Employees Entitled to Paid Sick Leave?

Paid leave due to illness is a complex topic, and has been addressed differently around the world. In the US, there is no federal law that states that employees are entitled to paid sick leave, but many companies must provide sick leave in line with the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

The pandemic forced the US to look at paid leave offerings. This has been put under the microscope by recent data, showing that states with paid sick leave enforced saw 400 less COVID-19 cases per state, per day. 

In response to the pandemic, the Family First Coronavirus Response Act was set up in March, and includes paid leave for employees working in companies with less than 500 employees. While the legislation ran out on December 31st 2020, eligible companies can benefit from unused leave until March 31st 2021.

For larger companies, the onus is on them to provide paid leave. However, 64% of America’s largest employers have not announced any paid sick leave, or addition to their regular policies. Where companies have announced sick pay additions, the most common is between 10-14 days.

In Canada as another example, more than 3 paid sick days are not currently legislated, leaving many people who are most vulnerable at risk. During COVID-19, many municipalities have introduced legislation, such as Ontario’s ‘Stay Home if You’re Sick’, that would guarantee 7 days of paid leave each year, plus 14 in a national emergency like the Coronavirus. It remains to be seen if this legislation will become law. There is a stark difference between this goal and the current situation in some other countries, such as Sweden, where employees are entitled to 80% of their pay for up to a year in some cases, and 14-days as standard. In the wake of COVID-19, the Swedish government announced they would cover the cost of the additional 20%, and that workers would not be required to provide a sick note.

Looking at China as another example, traditionally employees would only be eligible for sick pay in line with how long they had worked for their employer, on a scale against the amount of years service. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of China has announced since the outbreak of the Coronavirus that “any person unable to attend work because they have identified as having been “infected,” “suspected” of infection, or been in close contact with COVID-19 and required to undergo mandatory quarantine or other government-imposed mandatory measures, must be paid his or her regular level of remuneration” and cannot be terminated during this time, even if their employment contract is due to expire.

Can Employees Demand to Work Remotely?

In line with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws, updated for COVID-19, employees with a disability or who are at a high risk of being infected by COVID-19 may request additional allowances, such as working from home. The employer has the right to suggest other practical suggestions that may also solve the problem, such as adequate PPE or distancing, especially in a situation where the employee will be unable to perform vital parts of their role from home.

On the other side of the coin, some countries are looking for ways to legislate how much they can expect employees to work from home. In France, the ‘right to disconnect’ became law in 2017, allowing employees the right to limit the amount of time they spend working from home outside of office hours. Spain is currently working on the ‘right to be flexible’, while Greece is limiting how employers can monitor employees working from home, and Ireland just completed a public consultation to create law that positively impacts the work/life balance using remote working.

Many countries are jumping on the bandwagon of offering country relocation schemes for employees who are able to work from home long-term. In part to soften the tourism blow of 2020, they often offer tax breaks and other incentives if you want to live abroad while working for your home employer.

Does an Employer have Grounds to Enforce a Vaccine?

In the US, employers are legally allowed to mandate vaccinations, and employees cannot refuse for personal or political reasons. If an employee has a religious or medical reason for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, employers cannot force them to get the vaccine, in line with the American Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. However, they are allowed to exclude them from the workplace. This does not mean that they can terminate their employment, but instead that they can put measures into place to allow them to work safely, such as PPE, remote work, or making changes to their working role and responsibilities.

Other countries have similarly complex guidelines. In Australia, employers must prove that it is “lawful and reasonable” for them to mandate vaccination among their employees, while in the UK, terminating unvaccinated employees would need to be accepted under the terms of SOSR (Some Other Substantial Reason) dismissal law. 

In other countries, even where mandatory vaccination is well-established, leaders have already announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be made compulsory. One example is France, where certain vaccinations have been mandatory since 2018, specifically in the social and healthcare fields, but President Macron has made it clear that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be added to the list. 

As liability around any potentially negative consequences of the vaccine is unclear, many employers may choose not to make vaccination compulsory, but rather to incentivize the vaccine. This could be done through easing the enforcement of PPE and distancing for vaccinated staff, workplace vaccination or testing schemes, and the provision of intelligent education that spreads awareness.

The Global Working Complexity Just Got That Bit Simpler

As employers continue to grapple with the ‘new normal’, it’s clear that there are still many considerations around employee rights and vulnerabilities. With some employees vaccinated and back in the office, while others continue to work remotely or fight the virus, there are different rules for governance and management around the globe. As a result, it’s important to get as much visibility and control over your global payroll as you can.

That’s where Papaya Global thrives. We offer a single platform for managing your global workforce, adding compliance, security, transparency and ease of use where it’s needed the most. We’re also well-versed in the complexities of compensation, liability and employment around the world, allowing us to act as a one-stop-shop for any questions or concerns you might have.

Schedule a call with one of our experts here, and in the meantime – have a read of our latest e-book, on managing the remote working landscape.

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