Employment during COVID-19: the Ministry has spoken

The tentacles of the COVID-19 pandemic have reached all aspects of life in Serbia.  Since the declaration of the state of emergency on March 15, 2020, authorities have been actively introducing economic support measures for both the public and private sectors, in a bid to stem the pandemic’s economic fallout. These measures are a huge shock for businesses in Serbia, but they also affect one of the most vulnerable categories of citizens – employees.

Both employees and employers tend to be poorly informed about their own and each other’s rights and duties. To keep it simple and to keep everyone in the loop, the Ministry of Labor (“Ministry”) published a step-by-step explanation of the ramifications of the state of emergency on employment rights and duties.

 

Remote work

First of all, the Ministry appealed to employers to allow their employees to work remotely during the ongoing crisis. The Ministry clarified that employees working remotely have the same rights and duties as employees in the workplace, and that remote work does not equate to paid leave. The only difference between employees working remotely and those working on-site is that the former are not entitled to a transport/commuting allowance.  If remote work is not a viable option, employers must take all steps to ensure workplace health and safety.

 

Protection of parents with children under the age of 12

The Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government issued a Recommendation concerning work practices in public administration and state institutions (“Recommendation”). While the Recommendation originally referred to employees in state bodies, public agencies, public services and local self-governments, the Ministry has taken the view that it should also apply to persons employed in the private sector, where the business activity of the employer so allows.  Essentially, the Recommendation provides that employers must allow one parent of a child younger than 12 years of age to work from home.  If this is not possible then employer must make arrangements for shift work so that the work schedule of one parent does not clash with the work schedule of the other parent.

 

Rights of self-isolated or quarantined employees

Where the authorities order an employee into self-isolation or quarantine, he/she is entitled to pay at 65% of his/her average salary over the previous 12 months. In this scenario, employers pay the salary for the first 30 days of an employee’s absence from work, while the Serbian Health Insurance Fund pays the salary from that point on.  In any event, employees ordered into self-isolation or quarantine must notify their employer thereof and submit a scan of the self-isolation or quarantine order.  Employees that intentionally prevent or avert adequate medical care, as well as employees who otherwise abuse the right to be temporarily absent from work on health grounds, are not entitled to a salary.

 

Employee right to annual leave

Employers decide when an employee may take annual leave.  While on annual leave, the employee is entitled to a percentage of his/her average salary over the previous 12 months.

 

Employee rights in a lay off or closure situation

If an employer is forced to scale back or close its business completely, it may “lay off” employees for up to 45 days, or even longer where provided for by law.  Laid-off employees are entitled to pay at a minimum of 60% of his/her average salary over the previous 12 months.  Higher amounts may be payable under collective agreements, by-laws or employment contracts. In any event, the salary may not be lower than the minimum wage.

 

 

Employee rights when employer subject to Government health and safety closure order

Employees of employers closed on foot of an official healthy and safety closure order are entitled to pay during the closure. The law makes no provision for the amount payable in this scenario. However, collective agreements, by-laws or individual employment contracts should have provisions regulating this scenario.

 

Employee rights when absent from work due to illness

Employees absent from work caused by an illness are entitled to pay at a minimum of 65% of their average salary over the previous 12 months.  If absent from work due to an occupational illness or workplace injury, employees are entitled to pay at 100% of their average salary over the previous 12 months.

 

Employee right to unpaid leave

An employee may be granted unpaid leave, but only at his or her own request. Employers may not request that employees take unpaid leave.

 

Employees’ rights in case of redundancy

Employers intending to make redundancies must prepare a redundancy program.  Employees made redundant are entitled to severance pay prior to termination of the employment contract.  If severance pay is not paid, the Labor Inspectorate may order that those employees be returned to work.  The amount of severance pay is determined by collective agreements, by-laws or employment contracts.

 

Unemployment benefit rights

Unemployed persons, who had been insured for at least 12 months without interruption or 18 months with interruptions, are entitled to unemployment benefits. To claim benefits, unemployed persons must submit an application to the National Employment Agency within 30 days of their employment being terminated or of the date on which their previous insurance ends. During the state of emergency these requests may be submitted electronically.

 

For more information, please contact us via covid19@geciclaw.com