As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments across Europe have implemented extraordinary measures to help employers and staff to deal with downturns in business, lockdowns and curfews, and workplace closures. XpertHR highlights some of the key measures put in place.
Differing approaches to job retention (furlough) schemes
While the UK has introduced a new furlough scheme to help businesses that are experiencing lower demand as a result of the pandemic, other countries have expanded existing unemployment support schemes.
For example, Germany has extended its existing wage subsidy scheme, Kurzarbeitergeld (KUG), by relaxing its eligibility requirements. KUG is an unemployment insurance benefit that aims to compensate a partial loss of wages caused by a temporary loss of work.
Some countries have opted for schemes that subsidise the hours employees are not working. In France, the “partial activity” (activité partielle) scheme, applies where employees who lose income because their employer has temporarily shut down operations or cut their working hours. The scheme allows the employer to pay a certain percentage of the employee’s gross normal pay for the unworked period and be reimbursed by the public employment authorities.
Ireland had introduced wage support schemes. Employers that experience a reduction in orders or turnover are entitled to receive flat-rate subsidies for employees. Employees who have been placed temporarily on a shorter working week of three days or less because of the pandemic are entitled to Short Time Work Support.
As the pandemic has evolved, European governments have reviewed the terms of their job retention and wage support schemes, and adjusted the level of support and deadlines for payment accordingly.
Financial support for employers and employees
Alongside job retention schemes, many countries have introduced financial support measures, including grants, loans and capital investments.
In Romania, a number of financial support schemes have been introduced to support various categories of employees, including daily, fixed-term and occasional workers. Employers can also access a one-off payment for each teleworker to purchase the technological goods required to carry out teleworking activities.
Employers in Germany can pay an additional payment or bonus, to €1,500 of per year to their employees up to 31 December 2020. These payments are tax-free and exempt from social security contributions.
Measures to avoid terminations and lay-offs
Governments are implementing measures to avoid redundancies and unpaid periods of lay-off, and provide support for employees who have been dismissed.
In Italy, subject to certain exceptions, it is unlawful for employers to dismiss employees for economic reasons until 31 December 2020. This covers both individual and collective dismissals.
In the Netherlands, employers must contact the Labour Authority to ask about job opportunities for an employee whose role is at risk of dismissal. If they fail to do this, the employer will receive a reduction in the compensation payable to them under the Emergency Fund Bridging Employment (NOW) scheme. Additionally, employers must encourage employees to take training and retraining courses. A new career development advice scheme is also available for employees and jobseekers.
Until 31 December 2020, the re-employment period for employees in Finland who have received a notice of termination of employment for redundancy is extended to nine months after termination.
Measures to facilitate remote working
In response to the risks of an outbreak in the workplace, many employers have adopted home or remote working arrangements.
The Guide for global employers provides an overview of the main issues facing employers with staff in more than one country, while the individual country guides provide employment law guidance at national level.
In general, all employees in Belgium are required to telework from home, except in certain circumstances. Employers are obliged to produce a certificate for employees who cannot undertake teleworking.
Where employees are required to work at the employer’s premises, most countries have strict social-distancing and infection-control measures. Many countries have made the wearing of face masks obligatory at work.
In Romania, employers with more than 50 employees must divide their employees into groups and the groups should have staggered start and finish times by at least an hour for employees in those groups.
In France, employers must inform employees about the public authorities’ test-and-trace app (TousAntiCovid) and encourage them to use it at work.
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