The Covid-19 virus is spreading rapidly in Sweden, impacting all parts of everyday life, including the workplace. Therefore, Swedish employers are advised to take into consideration the following recommendations. Pursuant to Swedish law, an employer is responsible for the physical and psychological health and safety of the employees in the workplace and in this respect give instructions and take safety measures as reasonably can be expected from the employer.
What are the general principles an employer should or could apply?
All employers have health and safety obligations as well as a general duty of care towards their employees and should keep employees informed about health risks that may arise in carrying out their duties and ensure that working practices do not create undue risks to employees. The list of the recommendations includes:
- Keeping up to date with changing government, medical and travel advice.
- Issuing reminders of good hygiene practices.
- Consider banning handshakes and unnecessary close contact between colleagues and visitors.
- Providing adequate handwashing facilities, hand sanitizer and tissues.
- Cleaning communal areas.
- Issuing employees with information on the symptoms of the virus, and what to do if they have concerns.
- Updating employees on changes to policies and practices like working from home or travel restrictions, as a result of COVID 19.
In Sweden, there are no mandatory obligations for employers that are specifically in relation to COVID-19. Nonetheless, employers should make sure they are taking any necessary steps to protect their employees.
Can an employer force an employee to work from home?
The employer should instruct the employee to work from home if there is a reason to believe that an employee poses a risk to the health of other employees.
If an employee is sent home, then what measures do employers have to take?
Provided employees are working from home, employees will retain full salary and benefits in accordance with their employment contract and applicable laws and collective agreements. Those employees who are on sick leave are entitled to sick pay or state sickness benefit.
If the employee is quarantined, does the employer still have to pay the salary?
Employees who are quarantined under the Swedish Infectious Disease Control Act are entitled to state disease carried allowance, in accordance with statutory rules. As of 16 March 2020, it is also possible for employers to, under certain specific conditions, put employees on publicly funded short-term furlough. This publicly funded short-term leave enables employers to cut their salary costs by up to 50%, while employees retain up to 90% of their salary. The Swedish government has also proposed to extend the time period during which social charges, payroll taxes and VAT are to be reported and paid.
Additionally, the Swedish government has temporarily suspended the waiting day for sick pay, therefore employees will be eligible for sick pay as from day one of sick leave. This applies retroactively from 11 March up until 31 May. The requirement for employees to submit a doctor’s certificate as from the 8th day of sickness is under review for being suspended.
Are employees who self-isolate themselves are entitled to be paid as usual
Yes, if the employee is working from home. If working from home is not an option, the employer may release the employee from his/her work duties with full pay.
If on request of the employer, the employee should stay at home due to a suspicion of being infected, does the employer still have to pay the salary?
Yes, if the employee continues to work from home
What if the employee refuses to come to the office?
Employees are obliged to perform work and unlawful absence from work due to fear or risk of infection may constitute grounds for disciplinary action or termination. Therefore, employees cannot refuse to attend work, nor can employees refuse to travel.
The Swedish Infectious Disease Control Act obliges employees who have valid grounds to believe that they may be infected by coronavirus to not only to seek medical care but also undergo any medical examinations deemed necessary.
If childcare services and/or schools are closed, is it allowed for the employee to stay home? If yes, is the employee still entitled to his/her salary?
If the employee can still work for home, then yes.
If an employee’s child is ill or is a disease carrier, such employee may receive care of a sick child benefit from the government (vab), if he/she needs to be at home to care for their child as well as compensation, if there is a specific suspicion that a child is spreading infection.
If a child’s day-care or school is closed, and the employee’s child is not ill or infectious or a child is kept at home as a precaution to reduce the risk of being infected by others, the employee is not eligible for vab.
Can an employer forbid his employees to travel abroad privately and/or on business purposes?
The government advises avoiding travel to any of the “affected areas.” Therefore, an employer may restrict or postpone business travel.
Can an employer oblige employees to travel abroad (to risk areas) for business?
Although the Swedish Government currently advises against all travel outside of Sweden, the employer may still request the employees to travel for business.
Can an employer force the employee to take holidays on (very) short notice?
Employers cannot force an employee to take leave, short or long notice. It has to always be mutually agreed upon.
Can an employer force the employees to cancel their holidays on a short notice?
Similarly to the above, employers cannot force an employee to cancel leave, even on short or long notice. The employer may ask for the benefit of the company but the employee is not obliged to agree to it.
Can the employer ask employees whether they have recently visited a risk area and if yes, what can the employer do?
In the current situation with the outbreak of COVID-19, employers have to act and process the personal data needed in order to take proactive measures to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Employees’ duty of loyalty to the employer and protecting the health and safety of colleagues and customers will prevail over the individual’s interest to protect their personal data. Therefore, employees in Sweden are obliged to provide information to avoid further infection.
Informing the employer of the potential infection also means that the employee has to inform colleagues with which the employee has been in close contact and to self-quarantine.
Can employers take the temperature of an employee?
The employer may do so with the employee’s consent.