It is necessary to take measures such as providing a sufficient amount of soap, cologne and hand disinfectant in the workplace and take measures such as ventilation of the workplace by employers. Employers should avoid risks that could lead to a dangerous situation for their employees, they have to eliminate existing risks, or replace existing risks with non-hazardous or less hazardous factors. If necessary, stopping workplace activities may be considered. In this process, international travel and meetings should also be restricted. Employers should also be informed about the COVID-19 epidemic and the measures taken in the workplace in this context and appropriate instructions should be given to the employees regarding health and safety measures. In this case, employees must also comply with all the measures taken regarding occupational health and safety.
If employees have an infection or suspicious symptoms, they should report these to their employers per their loyalty obligations. This is also important for ensuring occupational health and safety in the workplace. However, the definition of what poses risks should be clearly defined by employers and employees should be informed about this. Employers may recommend that their employees explain their findings, such as infection and suspicion, to their employers and authorized persons such as the workplace’s occupational health and safety board. The employer can’t give instructions to the employers to inform their employers about the symptoms of the disease due to data confidentiality, but this can be recommended to ensure health and safety in the workplace, employees should nevertheless express such concerns in secret. Because of the protection of their health and the health of their colleagues, they need to be careful. Although the employer is not obliged to notify the employees having the infection detected in the workplace to the health institutions, it would be appropriate for the employers to inform the health officials about this situation in case of such danger or suspicion. However, the employer can’t force his employee to be examined if he finds a suspect of infection. This situation can only be recommended. If the employee does not listen to these recommendations, if the employer deems it necessary, the employee can be gone on leave, provided that one is paid.
If employees prefer not to come to work due to the epidemic, the option of shortening their working time or part-time work may be considered. However, according to the Labor Law, changes in working hours must be notified to employees in advance and approved by employees in writing. If the employees do not approve of this change in writing within 6 working days, the employer cannot accept this change. It is also an option to send the employee unilaterally on leave, provided that the employee continues to be paid by the employer and the employee is ready to work. Employer’s encouragement or coercion of employees to work remotely is also one of the measures that can be taken in this epidemic environment. If a decision is taken to work from home in the workplace, employees will continue to receive full salary without any interruption and the employer will provide their employees with the technical equipment necessary to work from home. Employees also have the right to participate in short-term working and receive an allowance. For the employees to benefit from the short-time working allowance, the working hours of the workplace should be temporarily reduced by at least a third or the activities in the workplace should be stopped completely or partially for at least four weeks. If the employer justified the demand for the short-time working of the employee, he can contact the Employment Agency to provide a short-time working allowance for employees up to three months. In the short-time working, half of the wages of the first week are paid by the employer then a certain amount of wages will be paid from the unemployment fund to be deducted from the unemployment allowance. If verified coronavirus cases are detected in the workplace, employees can refrain from working. In this case, employers should continue to pay salaries even if the employees do not perform their duties. In the case of a force majeure such as the spread of the outbreak in Turkey and to threaten the general population, unpaid leave, as long as the mutual agreement of the employer and employee, is another option available to employees. The employer or employee can offer unpaid leave. If the proposal comes from the employee, the request for leave must be reasonable and the time off must be temporary. In the case that an employee does not have a request for unpaid leave with his consent, employers should use this option as a last resort and should never force their employees for unpaid leave. The employer must inform the employee in writing regarding unpaid leave in advance, and the employee must accept this request in writing within 6 business days. If the workplace activities are temporarily suspended and no employee contracts are terminated during this period, the employer is not obliged to inform the Social Security Institution. If the employee cannot participate in workplace activities due to force majeure, the employer is allowed to pay half of his salary for each day to the employee who cannot work for a week, according to the labor law. However, if the force majeure continues for more than a week, the employee or employer may terminate the employment contract for just cause. In this case, the employee will have all legal rights such as severance pay, overtime, unused vacation, but he will not be able to receive notice pay. On the other hand, if the workplace activities are stopped by the authorized institutions, the employer cannot terminate the employment contracts of his employees. However, in this case, the employee may have all legal rights, including severance pay, excluding notice pay, by terminating the employment contract for just cause.
The explanations in this article are based on the Turkish Code of Obligations, Turkish Occupational Health, and Safety Law and Turkish Labor Law.
Lawyer Tuba Kızılkaya