What is the current stage and what are the anticipated stages in re-opening the workplace in Latvia?
The workplaces are gradually reopening, this being done according to industry specifics. For instance:
- catering being at highest risk is reopening very slowly, at some points, if facing COVID-19 outburst reducing the operation again;
- healthcare institutions are permitted to operate solely provided the highest safety precautions (masks, disinfection of several levels, etc.) are observed;
- people travelling in from territories qualified as of very high COVID-19 spread are obliged to stay in self-isolation for 14 days;
- at the moment discussions are going on in respect to additional health care checks and isolation requirements to be imposed on foreign workforce thus encumbering operation possibilities for those industries using such workforce most.
New regulations are still adopted and imposed with certain regularity as circumstances with COVID-19 spread are still deemed unpredictable and changing.
Have there been any changes in legislation on government aid for employers or prevention of terminations since June 2020?
In certain aspects the regulation imposed during lockdown has been amended to support the society’s and businesses’ recovery. However, the legislation on government aid to employers has had minor changes, for instance, like establishing deadline for the state aid.
All legislation related to COVID-19 circumstances can be found on site likumi.lv.
Health and safety at work during re-opening the workplace, what are the Employer’s obligations?
All economic operators (including employers) are obliged to:
- Inform the society on precautions to be observed by placing informative posters in well conspicuous places providing:
- a warning that persons who are subject to self-isolation, home quarantine or who show signs of an infectious respiratory disease should not be present in the relevant place;
- a warning on obligation to comply with rules regarding observance of a distance of 2 meters, as well as regarding other distancing requirements, if such have been established;
- statement on conditions to be observed and complied with in respect to proper hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene.
- Ensure distancing requirements being in place:
- where possible to impose requirement to observe distance of 2 meters;
- where distance of 2 meters cannot be observed, provide that in public indoor and outdoor spaces gather not more than 2 persons;
- where distance of 2 meters cannot be observed and there is significant flow of people, to control that people do not crowd and do not stay in one place for too long time;
- restrict gathering of employees in the workplace outside working hours;
- when organizing social events, restrict the length of such events (commencing not earlier than as of 6.00 and running until not later than 24.00).
The restrictions in respect to gathering are however applied with certain exceptions, for instance, where distance of 2 meters cannot be observed due to specific of the employment duties of the individuals this requirement can be disregarded. Likewise in respect to general gathering restrictions the regulation sets schedule how the gathering possibilities are increased and by when.
- Ensure hygiene solutions:
- ensure that hand detergents are available;
- decrease common use of same surfaces and technical solutions (e.g. PC keyboards, mouses, screens);
- to the extent possible decrease transfer of work tools from one person to another;
- perform regular cleaning and disinfection of the premises, surfaces and tools;
- regularly ventilate the premises; etc.
- Secure monitoring of health status of persons, main focus being imposed on not permitting individuals with signs of an infectious respiratory disease being present in the workplace.
Can I ask the Employer ask personnel to take out a health questionnaire before returning to the office? Can the Employer take their temperature at the entrance of the building?
This issue is not specifically addressed; however it can be deemed as one of precautions and instrument to ensure safety of other employees.
Legitimacy of taking out health questionnaires would depend on who is running such questionings. Where questioning by employer could be deemed as excessive approach, according to State Labour Inspectorate the employer can in this case though use rights granted to it within general practice by the Labour Law. Namely, if there is a reasonable suspicion of an employee’s illness that poses or may pose a threat to his/her safety or health and/ or therefore is a threat to other personnel, the employer is entitled by an order to impose on the employee obligation to immediately undergo a medical examination. Expenses related to such health checks shall be covered by the employer.
Whereas temperature checks have been addressed from perspective of GDPR. It has been concluded that employee temperature checks are permitted provided the data are not stored, thus avoiding of unnecessary data processing and risk of becoming subject to GDPR.
Does the Employer have to pay salaries when an employee refuses to come to work due to fear of the COVID-19 virus?
Work from home is a voluntary choice of the parties. However the employers have no statutory rights to decrease remuneration or suspend payment of it to employees because irrespective of actual outcome of performance of duties by the employees, if the employee is at disposal of the employer, this period entitles the employee to receive salary.
Does the Employer need to agree in the future to employees working from home because they were allowed to work from home during lockdown?
No, as mentioned above work from home is a voluntary choice of the parties. However, post lockdown practices show that employees are looking for more work and family life balance, which means that requests for work from home will increase in the future.
What are the best practices for re-opening the workplace in Latvia?
Although circumstances are the same for all employers, the challenges though are different. There is no sole solution, each business has to find the approach that fits it most.
While we can deem that the remote work has become already new way of living, surveys and studies on experience and challenges of employees during lockdown have shown that employees were the most missing socializing and feeling that they are part of a team. At the same time while employees have evaluated their performance during the lockdown as unchanged, the employers were facing certain struggle to get at least the same performance results from their employees. Thus obviously the best approach is to find balance among the precautions imposed by legislation, business needs and family life of employees.
This may require introduction of work in shifts (per hours, per days) or even rearranging work structure and transforming certain positions in full remote mode. However each employer must apply those solutions which are least harming to its business and at the same time to the extent possible meeting and responding to level of anxiety and flexibility to change of its employees, concurrently also complying with main criteria imposed on all society today:
- to be informed;
- to observe distance;
- to secure hygiene;
- to monitor health status of individuals.