Here are the latest updates on current developments and announcements regarding COVID-19, including answers to legal questions arising from the measures adopted by the Cyprus government.
Q. Can an employer require employees, visitors, or service providers to give personal health data in relation to COVID-19?
A. The employer should not request specific health data unless the Cyprus government issues a decree allowing it. Employers should only access and process personal health data of employees if legal obligations require them to do so.
Q. Can an employer disclose information about an employee who has been infected?
A. Employers should inform employees about COVID-19 cases and take protective measures, but should not communicate more information than necessary in the circumstances. If an employer finds that it is necessary to reveal the name of the employee (in order to comply with its obligation to secure the health and safety of its staff and take measures to prevent spreading the virus), the relevant employees must be informed and the employee’s dignity and integrity must be protected.
Q. Who qualifies for the Special Sickness Allowance?
A. The Special Sickness Allowance is available to both employees and self-employed individuals who:
The allowance paid is equal to 60% of the person’s insured income and cannot exceed EUR 1,214 within a one-month period.
Q. Are self-employed individuals entitled to benefits under any of the schemes introduced by the Ministry of Labour, Welfare, and Social Insurances?
A. Yes, self-employed individuals may apply for and receive benefits under the Special Benefit for Self-Employed scheme, available to those who have suspended work either partly or in total. The basic requirement for a self-employed person is to avoid dismissing any employees between 1 March 2020 and the end of the scheme, plus one month after the scheme ends. Self-employed individuals also cannot dismiss any employees due to economic reasons during this period of time.
The benefit paid will be equal to 60% of the person’s insured income, between EUR 300 and EUR 900, for a four-week period.
The following categories of self-employed individuals are excluded from the scheme because their economic operation has not been affected due to COVID-19: pharmacists, microbiologists and relevant professions, veterinarians, medical supply and equipment operators, insurers and insurance agents, mini-market employees and salespersons, dairy producers, and public academic institutions’ trainers.
Q. If the employee is a parent and has the option to work remotely or under flexible hours, does the employee qualify for the special leave for working parents in order to take care of children at home?
A. No. The special leave is intended for parents to care for children up to age 15, only if the parent has no option to work remotely or under flexible hours and has no domestic help. For the special leave, the employee must submit an application and the employer has to consent.
Q. Must all businesses suspend operation?
A. No, but the government has ordered a number of businesses to suspend operations until 30 April 2020. The government has ordered the suspension of hotel businesses until 30 April 2020.
Q. Has the government introduced any measures to support businesses that were ordered to suspend operations?
A. Yes, two schemes have been introduced by the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurances, namely the Special Partial Work Suspension Plan and the Special Total Work Suspension Plan. The first scheme is for businesses that have partly suspended operations, with a reduction of revenue over 25% during March 2020 and the same expected for April 2020, when compared to the respective months of 2019.
The second scheme is for businesses that have suspended operations completely as a result of government orders, assuming the nature of their operation has not changed. Businesses whose operations are directly related to those that have been ordered to suspend operations are eligible to apply for the second scheme if they have a reduction of revenue of more than 80% during the relevant period of time.
With both schemes, the reduction in revenue must be due exclusively to the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The basic requirement for a business to apply for both schemes is not to proceed with any dismissals of employees between 1 March 2020 and the end of the scheme, plus one month after the scheme ends. Also, businesses cannot dismiss any employee due to economic reasons for this period of time.
According to the schemes, affected employees are entitled to receive statutory unemployment benefits for as long as the businesses suspend operations. The benefits paid are equal to 60% of the employee’s insured income and cannot exceed EUR 1,214 for a one-month period. More information and clarifications in relation to all the schemes introduced by the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurances can be found here.
Q. What happens if an employer tells employees not to come to work?
A. If an employer tells employees not to attend work, and the employees are not sick or in obligatory quarantine or self-restriction, the employees should be paid their usual salary. If an employer opts to close its workplace temporarily, then in certain cases and depending on the nature of the business, employees may be able to work remotely.
Q. What happens if employees refuse to attend work out of fear of contagion?
A. It is recommended that employees should work remotely where possible. Alternative options include taking paid annual leave or agreed-upon unpaid leave, special leave for working parents (provided the employee meets those requirements), or paid leave with the employee working lost hours at a later stage, as agreed with the employer. Employers could also assure employees that relevant protective measures have been implemented in the workplace.
Q. Does an employer have to allow employees to work remotely?
A. In cases where there is a work-from-home policy, the employer must allow employees to work remotely and take all steps to make this feasible. If there is no such policy in the employment agreement or manual, the employer can ask employees to work from home, via teleworking, or under flexible working hours, and employees will be obliged to accept this arrangement. Of course, each case may have to be treated differently and the employer will be responsible for offering the necessary means to allow work from home.
Q. What are the provisions and obligations for employees who are required to drive in order to carry out their duties?
A. The Minister of Health has decreed that the maximum number of persons allowed in a vehicle at the same time is three. This applies to everyone, including employees, and it applies whether the vehicle belongs to the employer or the employee.
Q. What are the obligations of a company when employees are required to drive in order to carry out their duties?
A. Based on recommendations from the Department of Road Transport, the employer is required to arrange commuting of personnel in such a way as to avoid having more than three persons in a single vehicle. The number of people in a vehicle should be justified by the nature of the work.
In addition, the employer is required to develop an incident management system, keep employees informed of decrees and regulations issued by the Ministry of Health, issue guidelines to employees on the measures to be taken by them regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and issue instructions to employees on their obligations if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
Q. What are the obligations of employees who are required to drive for the purpose of carrying out their duties?
A. According to the Department of Road Transport, these employees are required to wear gloves, be clean, and comply with all personal hygiene rules. In addition, employees must have their identity card with them, along with a special form (Form A), in which their employer must confirm that the employees are commuting for work purposes during specific days and hours.
Q. Are there certain rules regarding vehicles used by employees who are required to drive for the purpose of carrying out their duties?
A. Vehicles used for these purposes should be regarded as non-private vehicles and specific measures should be taken, including daily general disinfection of the vehicle, frequent disinfection of all handles, metal surfaces on seats, seat belts, and other similar components. It is also necessary to put liquid hand sanitiser inside each vehicle for compulsory use by the driver and each passenger, place the instructions of the Ministry of Health regarding the COVID-19 pandemic where it can be easily viewed, keep air conditioning systems closed, and keep the windows open during the journey and closed during general disinfection.