Working From Home or Getting Back to the Office?

Even though the Employment Law contains general clauses regarding work from home, this type of work was not that common in Serbia until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the number of positive cases of COVID-19 virus infection decreases day by day, a lot of employers have decided to take their employees back to their offices, while others have continued to work from home as the official place of work. From a legal standpoint, what does each of such decisions bring to the table?

12
June 2022

On the same day the state of emergency was lifted, the Decree, which used to provide at least some answers about the changed circumstances to the employers, ceased to be valid. Now, as employers are on precarious ground, they should know their obligations, as well as the rights of the employees.

The Decree defined the obligation of employers to enable their employees to work from home in all workplaces where it is possible to organize work in such a manner. After the cessation of the Decree, this obligation ceased to be valid, and left employers in doubt – should they bring their employees back to their offices, or we should continue with work from home?

IF THE EMPLOYEES WORK FROM HOME

The Decree provided an easy procedure to instruct employees to work from home – by issuing individual decisions of the employer for each employee, without the need to conclude an annex to the employment agreement, as generally required by the Employment Law. By filling one simple form, referring to a specific Decree, employers were in a position to preserve the health of their employees, continue to operate their business, and respect the legal requirements.

When the Decree ceased to be valid, the general provisions of the Employment Law were applicable again and the obligation to conclude the annex to the employment agreement was due to the transfer to another workplace with the same employer. The Employment Law also provides for a mandatory notice in addition to the annex to the employment agreement with the reasons for changing the agreement, the deadline for the employee to declare, and the legal consequences in case of not signing the annex to the agreement.

Therefore, unlikely the decision, which is a unilateral legal act of the employer, the annex requires the consent of the will of both the employer and the employee.

IF THE EMPLOYEES ARE RETURNING TO THEIR WORK PREMISES

First of all we would like to remind you to always remember the general obligations you have under the Occupational Health and Safety Law:

Each employer is obliged to provide their employees with work at the workplace and in the work environment in which safety and health measures at work have been implemented. Otherwise, the employees may refuse to work without any consequences to their work engagement.

But the COVID-19 pandemic carries additional responsibilities and obligations. In this regard, the instructions provided by the Crisis Staff, related to the organization of work, work activities, and work positions given in order to ensure the safety of employees and service users, customers, and other persons entering the business premises, can be very useful.

WHAT AN EMPLOYER SHOULD DO TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF INFECTION

Although it often seems that the epidemic of the COVID-19 virus is behind us, formally the epidemic is still going on. Additionally, many regulations that were adopted after the beginning of the epidemic are still in force. One of them is the Rulebook on Preventive Measures for Safe and Healthy Work to Prevent the Occurrence and Spread of Epidemic of Infectious Diseases.

This Rulebook in detail defines the obligations of the employers and employees, in order to prevent the further spread of the epidemic.

Each employer is obliged:

1) To provide written instructions and instructions on measures and procedures for the prevention of the outbreak of infectious disease, which contain information on the symptoms of an infectious disease;

2) To redistribute working hours by introducing the second or third shift with a smaller number of employees if shift work is not implemented;;

3) To conducts enhanced hygiene and disinfection of workspace and auxiliary rooms, which includes regular disinfection of rooms and frequent ventilation of the workspace;

4) To provide employees with sufficient amounts of soap, towels, running water, and, alcohol-based hand sanitizers;

5) To ensure regular cleaning of all surfaces that are frequently touched in the workplace, especially rooms and equipment such as toilets, door handles, fixed telephones, computer equipment, and other work equipment;

6) To regulate the manner of keeping records on disinfection of working and auxiliary premises, which it organizes and implements;

7) To ensure the development of instructions for safe and healthy work with contractors, suppliers, distributors, and external associates;

8) To organize and ensure regular removal of waste and garbage (garbage cans lined with plastic bags) from the premises so that they can be emptied without contact with the contents.

WHAT IF SOME OF THE EMPLOYEES GET INFECTED?

The Rulebook also regulates in detail the employer’s obligations, in case of infection among employees. In this regard, if one of the employees gets infected with a contagious disease (such as COVID-19), the employer is obliged to ensure the application of all preventive measures, in particular the following:

1) The area where the infected employee stayed is regularly physically and chemically disinfected and ventilated;

2) To ensure the application of procedures for entering and leaving the employer’s premises, and that everyone uses the prescribed means and equipment for personal protection at work and other protective measures during the work process;

3) The directions of movement of employees through working space and auxiliary premises are precisely defined;

4) To ensure strict control of the movement of employees from the organizational unit in which the infected employee worked;

5) To ensure that the contacts of employees from the organizational unit in which the employee who was infected with other employees resides are reduced to the necessary ones, with the prescribed protection measures.

6) To ensure the implementation of all other measures recommended by the epidemiologist.

Employers have straightforward instructions on both, prevention of the spread of contagious diseases, as well as for instructions on prevention of the further spread of contagious diseases if one of the employees gets infected. However, it is important to note that the above-mentioned measures represent the minimum that must be implemented. On the other hand, employers may implement additional measures that they deem appropriate.

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