Coronavirus – bill on entitlement to sickness benefits for employees at higher risk enacted

The Parliament recently adopted a bill to amend the Sickness Benefits Act allowing employees who are at higher risk in case of infection with COVID-19 and employees with a relative in the higher risk group to receive sickness benefits. Similarly, the bill allows employers paying salary during such absence to receive sickness benefit reimbursement from the first day of absence.

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The Parliament recently enacted the bill to amend the Sickness Benefits Act. The scheme covers absence in the period from 20 May 2020, which was the effective date of the bill, until 31 August 2020. The new rules will automatically be repealed on 1 January 2021.

The main elements of the measure introduced under the bill are as follows:

  • The scheme will cover employees who suffer from one of the conditions and/or diseases that the Health Authority assesses will lead to a higher risk of a serious course of the disease if infected with COVID-19.
  • The scheme will also cover employees with a relative at higher risk of a serious course of the disease if infected with COVID-19. It is a requirement that the employee shares a household with and has a family-related connection to the individual at higher risk. Cohabitants will meet this requirement regardless of how long they have lived together.
  • The employee must be able to document to the local authorities that they or their relative – subject to a concrete, individual medical assessment based on the Health Authority’s current recommendations for individuals at higher risk – are in fact at higher risk of a serious course of the disease if infected with COVID-19. In practice, the employee’s documentation in this regard means a medical certificate.
  • In addition, the employee is required to obtain a statement from the employer confirming that it is not possible to take special precautions at the employee’s workplace or change the work tasks, so that the work can be performed in accordance with the Health Authority’s recommendations for individuals at higher risk or the recommendations for employees who have a relative at higher risk in case of COVID-19 infection, including confirmation that work from home is not possible. It is a requirement that the employer and employee agree that “it is not possible to take the necessary measures at the workplace”.
  • The employer is further required to draw up a declaration confirming that the employee is completely relieved of their duty to work.
  • The employee must meet the usual requirements to be eligible to receive sickness benefits, apart from the requirement of being incapacitated by their own illness.
  • As a starting point, there is no entitlement to salary during absence from work unless such entitlement follows from an individual contract or a collective agreement, or unless the employee and the employer enter into a separate agreement in this regard.
  • If the employer chooses to pay salary, or if such an obligation follows from, for instance, a collective agreement, the employer will be entitled to sickness benefit reimbursement from the first day of absence according to the amendment to the Sickness Benefits Act.

It is important to note that it is stressed in the explanatory statement to the bill that it is the Health Authority’s current assessment that the majority of employees in the higher risk group as well as employees with a relative at higher risk can undertake their usual work tasks if special precautions are taken, including observing particularly vigilant hygiene and social distancing as recommended for individuals at higher risk. Thus, employees will not be eligible for sickness benefits unless it is not possible to take such special precautions at the workplace, or if the precautions – according to a medical assessment – will not sufficiently protect the employee in question, and it is not possible to transfer the employee to other work tasks.

The Health Authority does, however, recommend that employees at higher risk as well as employees with a relative in the higher risk group who work in the health care, social or senior care sectors do not undertake work tasks involving close contact with individuals with suspicion of or confirmed infection with COVID-19. If it is not possible to transfer employees in this group to other work tasks, it will therefore be relevant to consider making an agreement on the right to absence which – insofar as the other conditions in this regard are met – makes the employee eligible for sickness benefits.

The content of the above is not, and should not be a substitute for legal advice.

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