The Minister of Health introduced several important anti-epidemic measures with Order RD-01-124 of 13.03.2020, among which one that concern the labor relations. The Order was issued in connection with the National Assembly’s Decision on introduction of a state of emergency in Bulgaria as of 13.03.2020, adopted on the occasion of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus in the country.
In this regard, we have received numerous questions from our clients and partners who are now experiencing difficulties in adopting their employment relations to the new conditions. We are therefore willing to share with you some of the common questions and their answers (not representing legal advise) hoping they could be of some help.
- Which employers and employees are concerned by the Order and what does it essentially mean for them?
In essence, the Minister’s Order obliges all employers in Bulgaria to introduce the telework regime (i.e. remote work), where possible. This can only be done for certain types of jobs that allow work to be performed outside the employer’s enterprise (for example in the fields of: IT, accountings, consultingservices, media and communication, etc.).
For all other jobs (for example in the fields of: production and industry), the Minister indicated that workcould be continued subject to highly increased sanitary and hygiene measures that are to ensure the protection of employees’ health in the conditions of a global pandemic.
- How do employees switch to working remotely?
It is important to clarify that the introduction of telework regime does not take place automatically – ex lege or by virtue of the said Order. This transition, if not initially provided for in the labor agreement, shall be additionally agreed upon in the due manner.
- Is the employee entitled to his/her remuneration during the state of emergency?
There is no legal basis for the employer to suspend the payment of wages for the duration of the state of emergency in Bulgaria. The remuneration continues to be due on the basis of the employment relationship between the employer and the employee.
- Can an employee refuse to attend work as long as a state of emergency is declared?
In principle, an employee may not refuse to attend work and perform his / her duties in the workplace established between the parties.
An exception to this general rule is provided for cases where, because of a serious and imminent danger to the life and health of the employee, the employee is given the right to refuse to perform his / her assigned work. In this case, the employee should immediately inform his / her direct supervisor. One should examine and prove on an ad hoc basis if in fact an employee’s concern for possible contamination risk at the workplace is justified or not.
- Would the state assist financially distressed employers to pay the employees’ salaries?
Over the past 3 days, the government has discussed options to financially support the business by providing assistance to pay about 60% of an employee’s wage working at enterprises whose activities have been proven to be affected by this crisis.
However, the exact method, criteria and mechanisms for granting these financial injections to their beneficiaries are currently being specified.
- What are the legal instruments the employer has at its disposal to deal with the current situation?
One of the options available to the enterprises is to introduce a part-time work regime for their employees. Upon reduction of the work volume any employer can establish part-time work for up to 3 months in one calendar work year. This can be introduced after coming to an agreement with the representatives of the trade unions and the employees’ representatives, if existent in the enterprise at stake.
Another legal tool for the employer is for him to grant paid annual leave to his employees without their consent, as long as there is an idle of more than 5 working days.
Beyond the above, an enterprise may also provide for mandatory concurrent use of paid annual leave to all employees after the adoption of the relevant internal acts.
As an extreme measure that companies could also use is terminating the employment agreement, if: i) idle continues for more than 15 working days; ii) there is a work volume reduction; iii) certain job positions need to be closed.
- How should business trips within the country and abroad be handled?
In accordance with the latest instructions given by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, all future business trips in Bulgaria and abroad should be canceled in order to prevent endangering the employees’ health.
- Can employers allow for employees to use paid or unpaid annual leave during the state of emergency?
There is no legal hindrance for the employer to allow the use of paid or unpaid annual leave during the state of emergency in the country.
We explicitly state that legislative changes are expected in the coming days, also with regard to labour related matters, that could lead to alterations in the general answers provided above.
Vassilev & Partners Law Firm fully complies with the authorities’ guidelines and adopted the appropriate working regimes to guarantee the health of both our employees and our clients and partners. Our team continues to provide prompt and effective legal assistance in a health-friendly environment, including via video conferencing where needed.
We remain available for any questions and legal support that may arise in the context of the current state of emergency, including but not limited to the preparation of the necessary employment documents that are to ensure the functioning of your business in safe conditions.