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Tips for employers in Norway on responding to the coronavirus

Written by
Advokatfirmaet Hjort DA, we find solutions in the details.
This article provides details on the latest measures introduced in Norway in relation to the coronavirus pandemic and gives guidance for employers.    

1. Safety and hygiene 

To minimise the risk of infection, you should make a risk assessment and take necessary steps to reduce infection, such as limiting contact between people and adopting strict routines for disinfection. However, currently, the Norwegian government has stated that employees should work from home as far as possible. We recommend you follow the rules and guidelines from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and other relevant authorities.   If someone has fallen sick, tell him or her to stay at home and contact a medical service. The employee cannot come back to work until a doctor has confirmed him or her free of infection. Because of the 14-day incubation period, you must assess whether a sick employee may have infected others. If this is possible, inform the other possible infected employees and consider implementing special measures in relation to them.

Information you provide should be transparent, clear and updated. You should have guidelines for work organisation including for working from home.

2. Testing  

The government has imposed 14-day mandatory quarantine for anyone travelling from abroad. Given the potential consequences of the coronavirus for you, the infected employee and other employees, you can ask an employee whether they have tested positive and/or whether they have recently travelled outside the country. The employee has a responsibility to tell you whether he or she is infected, and/or whether he or she has travelled outside the country.   If the employee refuses to tell you if he or she is infected and/or whether he or she has travelled outside the country, you cannot force them to tell you. You cannot force someone to be tested (however, special guidelines may apply in certain sectors, such as healthcare). If an employee refuses to be tested, you can order him or her to stay at home, and work from home if possible. Whether there in such a case is an obligation to pay the employee if work from home is not possible must be assessed case to case.

3. School closure, homeworking, quarantine and closing the workplace  

The government has closed all kindergartens and schools from 13 to 26 March (this may be extended). The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) has stated that the rules on parents staying at home with sick children also apply to parents staying at home because kindergartens/schools are closed. These rules only apply if the child is 12 or younger during 2020. As a starting point, each employee has the right to ten days’ paid leave per calendar year (15 days if they have more than two children). If the employee has sole care of the child or children, they have 20 days of paid leave for one or two children; 30 days for more than two.

For days exceeding these limits or outside these situations, the employee must apply for leave without pay. Employees can also use vacation days or time off, subject to employer approval.  You can require work from home, and must facilitate this if it is decided. The current guidelines recommend work from home as far as possible. We recommend you give employees guidance and information on how to work from home. You can require an employee to stay away from work even if the authorities do not quarantine him or her, if you consider it necessary to reduce risk of spread of the coronavirus. You can decide to close the workplace.

4. Pay 

An employee infected with coronavirus (documented by a doctor) has the right to sick pay according to the ordinary sick pay rules. Currently (17 March), the employer pays full pay for the first 16 calendar days. However, the government has proposed that employers only be responsible for the first three days due to the coronavirus. This rule is not yet formally approved, but it is expected to be approved on 20 March.  After the employer-period of 16 days (three days if the new rule is implemented), NAV pays sick pay (or the employer pays but can claim reimbursement from NAV within three months). Sick pay is equal to the employee’s annual salary (up to six times the national insurance scheme basic amount of NOK 99 858).   If the infection is not documented, but the employee has to stay in quarantine on medical advice and cannot work from home, the sick pay rules above apply, according to recent NAV guidelines.  The right to sick pay does not depend on the reason for the quarantine (private or business related). The decisive issue is whether a doctor recommends quarantine or not. If the employee chooses to self isolate other than on medical or employer advice, the employer has no obligation to pay sick pay. If the organisation’s quarantine rules are stricter than the doctor’s recommendations, the organisation has to pay all salary.

5. Travel

The government is currently discouraging all non-essential international travel. We recommend you keep your travel guidelines under constant review based on official recommendations.   In general, employers cannot decide where employees travel privately. However given the government has imposed automatic quarantine on return from abroad, and is advising against all international travel, you can encourage employees not to travel outside the country. This cannot be formulated as an absolute demand.

6. Discrimination 

Employers must consider the risk of direct or indirect discrimination against employees on grounds of ethnic or national origin. All restrictions implemented in the workplace must be general restrictions, and in no way directed towards employees of any particular ethnic or national origin. They must also be legitimate and proportionate, in order to avoid a later claim of indirect discrimination.

Reporting to the authorities (when and what to report)

Reports to the authorities on employees that have tested positive for the coronavirus or have travelled to a designated risk area may contain special category data. However, given the special circumstances, employers can report relevant data to authorities if this is necessary to fulfil their responsibility towards the authorities.

7. Advice from government/authorities  

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health publishes advices and guidelines in English regularly.

8. Other points 

The situation is changing from day to day. These top tips were updated at 17 March.