Maintaining your organizational wellbeing during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic requires a broad view of the factors that impact your ability to achieve your business objectives while supporting your employees' wellbeing. In these challenging times, employers are compelled to go above and beyond to support their employees. In response to the coronavirus, and to difficulties and tragedies beyond, legislation is being introduced around the world that will require employers to provide help to their employees in these situations. Below, we highlight some important requirements for multinational employees and their employers.
Return. Prioritize. Minimize.
In Ireland, the government published a Return to Work Safety Protocol to be implemented by employers and employees at all workplaces to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 when they start to reopen. Employers must familiarize themselves with the details of the Protocol, which are spelled out in the COVID-19 Response Plan. The COVID-19 Response Plan contains several steps, such as providing for hand hygiene facilities and temperature checks, and implementing social distancing, good respiratory hygiene, minimizing contact, and considering at-risk employees. Similarly, France's national deconfinement protocol specifies preventive and protection measures that employers must implement. The deconfinement document provides recommendations on matters to include barrier and physical distancing measures, traffic flow management, personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning and disinfection of workplaces, screening tests, and temperature taking.
In Portugal, a recent Decree set provisions allowing employers to take temperature readings of employees at the entrance to the workplace to prevent a second wave of infections from COVID-19. Employers will not be able to store any health data collected at workplace controls. What plan do you have in place for employees to return to the workplace in Europe with health and safety as your priority?
Evaluate. Clean. Protect.
Saudi Arabia conditions the ability of private sector companies' return to the workplace upon meeting certain guidelines. Under those guidelines, employers must evaluate the health risks of COVID-19 prior to returning to the workplace, establish protocols to maintain social distancing, implement cleaning and disinfecting procedures, set up barriers at the workplace, manage the traffic flow, conduct temperature screenings, and ensure that both visitors and employees wear masks in the workplace and in prayer rooms. Employers are also required to implement flexible working hours, divide employees into three groups with different work hours, and provide awareness training to all returning employees.
India goes even further in terms of requiring employers with employees returning to the workplace to protect the health of their employees. All employers who are eligible to resume operations are required to offer health insurance for their employees, per a requirement introduced as part of a framework referred to as Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the return to work. The measures are to be implemented by employers who are permitted to return to the workplace during the national lockdown. Determinations on which employers can return to the workplace are to be made by the state and local governments and district administrations based on local conditions. What steps has your organization taken to meet requirements to protect the health of your employees in Saudi Arabia and India upon return to the workplace?
Recognize. Support. Compensate.
Recognizing the challenges of working parents amid the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries introduced specific leaves and employer obligations to provide support to parents taking care of children in these unprecedented times. Germany recently introduced an expansion of the employer-paid compensation period for lost earnings to up to 20 weeks for eligible parents who take care of children up to age 12 or individuals caring for a person with disabilities during COVID-19. In Romania, employers are required to provide paid leave to employees for supervising their children during a COVID-19 related closure of educational establishments that was imposed by the State of Emergency declared on March 16, 2020.
Employers are required to pay 75% of employees' gross daily wage per leave day, up to 75% of the national average gross daily wage. The employer-paid leave allowance is subject to income tax and social insurance contributions. Employers can claim reimbursement from the government of the net amount of allowance paid to employees. What compensation measures is your organization required to take to support employees who have additional childcare responsibilities due to COVID-19?
Arrange. Flex. Schedule.
In addition to paid leave time, employers may be required to provide more flexible work arrangements for employees who are needed to care for family members. In Peru, for example, employers are required to provide work arrangements for employees whose immediate family members have tested positive for COVID-19. The employer's obligation to provide work arrangements apply only if the family member has not been hospitalized. The arrangements include provisions such as reduced working hours; providing flexible work schedules (including remote work); permitting absences from work during the workaday; or furnishing paid leave days. Such flexible arrangements must not affect employee pay. Employees are required to make up the hours by mutual agreement with their employers except for hours related to flexible work schedules. What work time flexibility arrangements is your organization required to meet?
Relax. Accrue. Carryover.
Flexibility related to COVID-19 does not only affect childcare. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced challenges and complexities in regards to drawing annual leave, prompting responses from governments all over the world. The United Kingdom relaxed the rules on the annual leave carryover due to the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing employees to carry over up to four weeks of their statutory annual leave entitlement, which they could not draw due to the COVID-19 outbreak, into the next two leave years. In Costa Rica, a proposed law would allow employers to distribute employees' annual leave days across Mondays, within 15 weeks from the time the leave is accrued, in times of national emergency. The employers' entitlement to distribute employees' annual leave days across Mondays would be limited to no more than 25% of their total workforce and one Monday per month per affected employee. What national requirements impact your employees' ability to carry over annual leave?
This is a preview of Priorities and Perspectives, a monthly publication produced by Gallagher's Compliance Consulting Practice. For five more action steps to help you focus your compliance efforts in 2020, contact your Gallagher representative or visit our Compliance Resources page for the full version of this month's edition.
Compliance is a series of actions, not a final destination. As a trusted advisor, Gallagher has developed this Priorities and Perspectives series to help you pursue a path through employee benefits compliance issues as part of an overall continuing compliance plan. Employers should carefully evaluate their health and welfare plans to determine if they are in compliance with both federal and state law. If you have any questions about one or more of the compliance requirements listed above, or would like additional information on how Gallagher constantly monitors laws and regulations impacting employee benefits in order to support employers in their compliance efforts, please contact your Gallagher representative.
The intent of this analysis is to provide you with general information. It does not necessarily fully address all your organization's specific issues. It should not be construed as, nor is it intended to provide, legal advice. Questions regarding specific issues should be addressed by your organization's general counsel or an attorney who specializes in this practice area.