ICC Georgia Said COVID-19 Regulations for Businesses Are Useless

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Read the excerpt from PwC Georgia’s COVID-19 legal guidebook issued at the end of March.

Under the Labour Code of Georgia, employers have duty to ensure health and safety of the employees. This implies taking reasonable steps to eliminate or minimise hazards and risks to health and safety in the workplace.

– It is advisable that the health and safety measures adopted by employers be in line with the action plan and recommendations adopted by the Government of Georgia, including the following:

– Not to request from the employees who are in self-isolation to physically come to work;

– Not to allow the employees who have travelled outside the country at the workplace or have symptoms of the virus;

– Implement “remote working” policy.

– According to the Decree of the President dated 21 March 2020 any kind of assembly or gathering of people is restricted. The exceptions from this rule shall be provided by the order of the Government. Further, the Government may restrict or oblige companies to carry out certain activities.

Is it a temporary disability if an Employee is infected with COVID-19?

Yes, the employee that is infected with Covid-19 is to be deemed as having temporary disability under the labour code.

– Under the Labour Code of Georgia, temporary disability that does not exceed 40 calendar days or 60 days within 6-month period, is a ground for suspension of employment relations. The term for suspension of the employment contract must not be included in the annual leave.

– In case the temporary disability exceeds continuous 40 days or 60 days within a 6 months period, an employer may be entitled to terminate employment agreement (please see more in detail below).

– During the temporary disability, an employee is entitled to receive monetary support from an employee that usually equals to the monthly salary. The basis for granting the monetary support is the relevant medical certificate.

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– Therefore, in relation to an employee that is infected with COVID-19:

1. The employment contract is suspended on grounds of temporary disability.

2. Medical certificate shall be issued.

3. The employer must pay the employee monetary support for the temporary disability equalling employees’ monthly salary.

Does Quarantine or Self-isolation amount to temporary disability?

Yes, under the Georgian law a person under quarantine or self-isolation is temporarily disabled.

– Self-isolation is one of the measures of quarantine, which is undergone in non-medical environment, including in house

– Both quarantine and self-isolation are also grounds for suspension of employment relations.

– The person who is in quarantine in the medical institution is given temporary disability certificate; in case of quarantine (including self-isolation) that undergoes in non-medical environment, a legal document that equals to medical certificate is issued by the Ministry of Internally Displaced persons from Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia.

– The period in quarantine or self-isolation shall not be treated as annual leave.

Is an employer under duty to pay a salary to a person in quarantine or selfisolation?

The period under quarantine or self-isolation is deemed as temporary disability during which an employee should receive monetary support in lieu of salary. Such support usually equals to salary.

May an Employee refuse to perform his/her duties during COVID-19, because he/she is concerned to get infected?

– Under the labour code, an employee may refuse to perform his/her tasks if this would create apparent risk to his or third party’s health due to workplace being non-compliant with health and safety requirements.

– Therefore, an employee may refuse to come to work or perform employment duties if the duties to be performed creates risks to be infected and the employer is not undertaking appropriate preventive measures. Any such refusal of an employee shall be assessed on case-by-case basis.

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May an Employer terminate an employment contract on the grounds related to COVID-19?

– Due to COVID-19 many companies are reducing working hours or are suspending operations that in turn creates need to reduce the workforce.

– The Labour Code exhaustively lists the grounds for suspension of the employment contract. Epidemic or Pandemic is not within the listed grounds and therefore an employer may not suspend relations with reference to epidemic/pandemic.

– Termination of the employment contract is generally viewed as the last resort, and therefore the employers are advised to take all measures not to terminate the agreements. In this respect it is advisable to first talk to employees, review the employment arrangements, working hours, compensation, offer employees to use their paid and unpaid leave, etc.

– In the event an employee refuses to agree on changes in the employment contract, or take paid or unpaid leave, an employer may have right to terminate the employment agreement. In the context of COVID-19, the termination ground for an employment contract may be “economic circumstances, technological or organization changes” or “objective circumstances” as provided under the labour code. The employers shall assess on case-by-case which of these grounds are applicable to their specific case.

– For those individuals who have the virus or are in the quarantine (including self-isolation), the ground for termination may be “long term working disability”, if the term of such disability exceeds continuous 40 days, or 60 days within a 6 months period and if the employee has already used his/her annual leave in full.

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