At the time of writing, Hungary is free from coronavirus according to the Hungarian Public Health Agency, which is continuously monitoring the coronavirus epidemic situation. Currently no coronavirus infected person has yet been registered, however, employers should be prepared as the infection is spreading very fast. Employers are looking for the optimal solution: how to comply with their obligation to ensure the workplace safety for their employees without entirely stopping business.
The Hungarian regulation on Healthcare and on Prevention of Epidemic Situations distinguishes between a declared epidemic and a threatened epidemic. The Hungarian authorities have not yet introduced any preventive or mandatory measures, so the responsible employers should make their own risk assessment and decide how to comply with their obligation to ensure the safe and healthy working environment.
The lawmakers were not prepared for such an extreme situation where, without an epidemic having been declared, employees have reasonable concerns for their safety and health. According to the Labour Code, until an epidemic is legally declared, they should continue work and be present in the workplace ready for work.
Under these circumstances, employers may take the necessary precautionary steps based on their own risk assessment in line with the obligation to provide a safe working place, and take certain steps without declared a vis (force majeure) maior epidemic having been declared. For example, where the business makes it possible, an employer may at any time order home office work for a temporary period.
However in public services or in certain sectors, such as food production or retail businesses, working from home is not an option. These employers may introduce higher security preventive measures in line with the Act on the Safe Working Environment and Health Protection, such as frequently checking employees’ health and introducing a special reporting system. They may also require employees to report if they are experiencing any symptoms or whether they have taken trips to infected countries or been in contact with an infected person or someone who has arrived from high-risk countries, even if they symptomless. In addition, employees could be examined more frequently by the work doctor before being admitted to work.
If an epidemic is officially declared, the authorities will introduce mandatory measures, and they can close down schools and hospitals or limit their operation, or ban travel to and from certain areas. Employees are also concerned for their wages. If they are ordered to stay away from work by the employer as a precaution they are entitled to their wages but if they are quarantined or should stay at home because of a declared epidemic, their absence from work is justified, but will be unpaid. Of course, employers can at their own discretion choose to pay the affected employees’ base salary, even if they are not legally obliged to do so.