The role of companies as guarantors of the health and safety of their employees is having an impact on the general welfare of the population. The following is a review of everything companies have to take into account in this new scenario, after resuming non-essential activities.
Thursday, April 9 saw the formal termination of the application of mandatory recoverable paid leave that was established by
Royal Decree-law 10/2020, of March 29, 2020 regulating recoverable paid leave for employees that do not provide essential services, aimed at reducing the mobility of the population in the context of the fight against COVID-19.
The aim of the leave, as indicated in the title itself of the royal decree-law, was to reduce mobility of the population in the context of the fight against COVID-19 in light of the increase in the number of people infected and, as far as possible, relieve the pressure on the National Health System and prevent its collapse.
The leave was applied from March 30 to April 9, 2020, both inclusive, to all workers employed by companies or public or private sector entities whose activities had not been paralyzed as a result of the declaration of the state of emergency by Royal Decree 463/2020, in other words, “non-essential services”, such as construction, industry, etc.
Although the measure formally ceased last Thursday, the truth is that due to the Easter holidays at the end of last week, the effects of this return to non-essential business effectively came into force on Monday, April 13.
In this partial return to non-essential activities, what are the main issues to be taken into account by companies with respect to the provision of services?:
- Firstly, all the mobility restrictions and rules established by Royal Decree 463/2020 remain in force (including the prohibition on opening non-essential retail establishments) for the duration of the state of emergency, which has been extended for the time being until April 26.
- The priority of providing services by telework or remotely still exists for all professions and positions in which it is possible.
- Companies must take all the necessary measures to prevent the possible infection of their employees, after consulting their occupational risk prevention
In this regard, the Government has published ‘Guidelines on best practice at work centers to fight COVID-19’, which were updated on April 11 and establish the following recommendations, among others:
- It is not absolutely necessary to wear a mask during working hours, if not required due to the type of work and provided personal distancing is maintained.
- Priority should be given to traveling to work by means of transport that do not involve the grouping of people and allow personal distancing of 2 meters.
- With respect to the work center itself, all work, entries and exits should be planned to enable workers to maintain a recommended personal distance of 2 meters. Personal distance should also be ensured in common areas and the agglomeration of people avoided in such areas.
- If a company or establishment is open to the general public, measures should be taken to minimize contact between workers and others: limited capacity, control of access, etc.
- If the workspace does not allow personal distancing, working schedules should be adapted as far as possible.
- Work-related travel that is not essential should be avoided and resolved by conference or video conference calls.
- Staff must be informed of the health regulations they have to observe and be provided with the necessary hygiene products (soap, water-alcohol solution and disposable tissues) to fulfill individual recommendations.
- Specific measures must be taken to minimize the risk of transmission to particularly sensitive or vulnerable workers, such as those over 65 years old, pregnant women and people that suffer from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disorders, cancer and suppressed immunity.
- Regular ventilation of the work center is recommended at least once a day for a period of five minutes; as is special cleaning work, particularly of surface areas touched more often and the devices most often used by workers, and the work area used by a worker should be cleaned after every shift.
- Finally, with regard to waste management, it is recommended that all disposable tissues used by staff to dry their hands or comply with the “respiratory etiquette” are disposed of in protected waste baskets or bins with a cover and, if possible, opened using a pedal. All personal hygiene material – masks, latex gloves, etc. – must be deposited in the “other” compartment (domestic waste obtained after separate waste collection).
If a worker shows symptoms while at work, the bin in which he/she has deposited tissues or other products he/she has used must be isolated. Rubbish bags must be removed and replaced in a second bag and closed, for disposal in the other compartment.
- Finally, in the construction sector, it should be taken into account thatOrder SND/340/2020, which came into force on the same day as its publication in the Official State Gazette, i.e. on April 12, decreed the suspension of all work that is required at existing buildings that contain people not related to the construction activity and, due to their permanent or temporary presence, or mobility needs or for residential, work-related or other reasons, may interfere in the performance of the work or the movement of workers or materials.
The general suspension does not apply to specific work and tasks at buildings to perform urgent repairs of facilities and breakdowns, as well as surveillance tasks.
Therefore, the role of companies, as guarantors of the health and safety of their employees, no longer has a mere labor or corporate responsibility scope, but now also has an impact on the welfare of the general population. The role of companies has therefore become one of special importance in the present situation, in which it is necessary to balance maintaining the country’s productivity and economic activity with the measures taken to attempt to stop infection, which not only benefits their own workers, but also society in general.
In short, we should not forget that we are still in a state of emergency and that, while Royal Decree 463/2020 remains in force, the restrictions still apply to the entire country and everyone, as a citizen, is responsible for taking all the measures possible to flatten the infection curve.
Tatiana Alejandra Moreno
Garrigues Employment & Labor Law Department