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What are the rights and obligations of employers and employees?
The coronavirus subject (Covid-19) is largely discussed world-wide, being the main-focus due to its extensive social and economic impact. The Covid-19 is a global issue, with new cases being confirmed each day.
 
The risk associated with Covid-19 for people in the EU/EEA and the UK is considered moderate to high, based on the probability of transfer and the impact of the disease. Given the observed epidemiological characteristics, it is assumed that anyone is susceptible, although there may be risk factors that increase the susceptibility to the disease.
 
According to the information provided by the Romanian National Institute for Public Health, valid on March 05 2020, in the last 24 hours, there have been reported 2,079 new cases globally. Outstanding growths were reported in South Correa, Italy and Iran while first cases were confirmed in Poland.
 
As of March 5th, in Romania there were 6 cases confirmed clinically, two new cases being confirmed in the last 24 hours.
 
In this context, it is key to understand the applicable employment law provisions and the coping mechanisms the employers may adopt to protect both the health and safety of their employees and of their businesses.
 

According to the information published by the Romanian Internal Affairs Ministry:

a)     Quarantine is established when a person who does not manifest symptoms specific to the virus returns from the following geographic areas (considered by the Romanian authorities as red zones):

Immediately after returning to Romania, this person must remain in quarantine for 14 days in places specially organized by the local authorities in collaboration with the Public Health Authority.

b)     Self-imposed isolation at home for 14 days is established when a person does not manifest specific symptoms but has traveled in the last 14 days in other areas or cities from China, Lombardia, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, South Correa, and Iran, or has been in direct contact with persons that have traveled in the red zone, have been confirmed with the virus or have a family member in one of these cases.

According to the Romanian Labor Code, the quarantine represents one of the cases when the employment contract is suspended by operation of law. During the suspension period due to quarantine, the dismissal of the employee is strictly forbidden.

If the Romanian Public Health Authority establishes that an employee must remain in quarantine/self-imposed isolation, the employee must inform the employer as soon as possible about the situation, to allow the employer to take all necessary health, safety and organizational measures.

During the period of suspension of the employment contract no salaries are paid. However, during the quarantine/self-imposed isolation period, the employees are entitled to a special allowance based on the medical certificate issued by the family doctor after being released from quarantine/self-imposed isolation.

Medical certificates are issued only based on the certificate issued by the Romanian Public Health Authority establishing the need to quarantine/self-imposed isolation. The medical leave for quarantine is granted on top of the standard medical paid leave to which an employee is entitled for other health conditions during a certain calendar year.

The amount of the quarantine allowance represents 75% of the average gross salary income for the last 6 months but limited to a maximum of 12 minimum national gross salaries and is fully funded from the national health insurance fund (in Romanian FNUASS). The amount of the allowance is initially paid by the employer but is subsequently refunded by FNUASS.

No, this could be considered a breach of duty, which can be sanctioned by the employer in accordance with the rules of discipline applicable at company level.

If the situation worsens locally (e.g., cities are closed by the authorities, personal contact is forbidden or required to be limited), a force majeure case could be declared which shall result in the temporary suspension of the employer’s activities and of the employment contracts. During the period of suspension due to force majeure, employees are not entitled to receive salaries or any other allowances.

It could also be expected that companies which face economic difficulties because of the Covid-19 outbreak, but are not officially declared under quarantine, might consider to temporarily reduce or even suspend their activities. In the latter case, employment contracts must also be suspended, the employees being entitled during the suspension period to an allowance of at least 75% of the base salary, the cost being entirely born by the employer.  

As a rule, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees and could be held liable for any damages caused to the employees for breaching their health and safety obligations.

To prevent contamination, employers must provide free of charge hygienic-sanitary materials, instruct their employees regarding their hygiene and keep them updated with the latest information from public official sources. Employers should communicate and collaborate with their occupational physician, health and safety external service providers or internal representatives to establish and implement proper protective measures.  

Also, disinfectants should be provided, surfaces must be cleaned with alcohol-based disinfectants, proper ventilation in the working areas must be ensured and technical possibilities as an alternative to physical meetings (e.g., video conferences) should be made use of, or remotely working, if possible.

If feasible, companies could ensure the transportation of their employees to and from work with sanitized vehicles, limit business travelling to areas with risk of contamination and prohibit travelling in red zone areas.