During the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and employees must wholeheartedly take, implement and follow the necessary measures to prevent a health-crisis in the workplace. According to the Turkish Code of Obligations, Labor Law and Occupational Health and Safety Law (the “Laws”), employers are obliged to take all possible measures to ensure workplace health and safety. Employees, as part of their duty of obedience and loyalty, are required to comply with these measures.
What are employers’ duties to provide a safe workplace?
Employers must be aware of all risks, including any newly arising, that are relevant to their workplace. Such risks must be evaluated and categorized considering the consequences thereof. When evaluating the risks those that may arise from the hygienic conditions of the work environment and personal hygiene habits of the employees must also be taken into consideration.
The Laws list several topics to be considered generally, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, these must be given particular attention:
- identify risks
- analyze and protect against avoidable risks
- analyze and address unavoidable risks
- prioritize collective-protective over personal-protective measures
- develop a coherent prevention policy covering such factors as technology, work organization, working conditions, social relations and work environment
- instruct employees about the prevention policy and confirm adherence
Informing the employees and cooperation
Employees must be informed about the employer’s risk assessment, protective measures and employee’s legal rights and obligations. Employees are legally obligated to cooperate with employers and may not, for example, abstain from safety measures that risk compromising the health and safety of other employees. Employees may request the employer to take additional measures and may request to participate in the risk analysis and decision making process related to protective measures.
Monitoring the risks and taking measures
During a health crisis, employers have a heightened obligation to monitor the safety and security of the workplace. Employers must carefully and diligently evaluate health risks and potential consequences. As a primary obligation, employers must inform employees of general health and safety measures to be taken by the employer.
Measures taken to secure health and safety and hygiene at the workplace should not be a financial burden to employees. Therefore, required sanitary measures in the workplace to minimize the risk of an infection during the current COVID -19 pandemic must be borne by employers.
What should employers do to improve health and safety at the workplace?
Share reliable and accurate information with employees
Employers are an important part of the effort to share accurate information and stop misinformation. During the COVID -19 pandemic, employers should provide employees with regular, topical updates from credible and authoritative local and international sources. For example, the Ministry of Health of Turkey here or the World Health Organization here.
Employers should develop and regularly update a communications plan to periodically disseminate information and recommendations to employees.
Encourage safe and healthy workplace practices
Instruct employees on proper and thorough hand-washing techniques. Encourage frequent hand-washing, especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses. Place alcohol-based hand sanitizers and surface cleaner around the workplace and encourage employees to make use of them. Advise employees to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Instruct employees about the concept and benefits of social distancing. Encourage employees to avoid close contact with other people. Ensure that frequently touched surfaces are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected periodically.
Update all relevant policies
Employers should ensure all policies related to leaves of absence, managing absenteeism and providing workplace accommodations are up to date. This will facilitate the management of employees who do not come to or refuse to report to work. Consider issuing policies explaining what employees should do if they show symptoms of the virus.
Respond to sick employees properly
Employers should actively encourage sick employees to seek medical advice and request not to come to the workplace.
Respond to symptomatic employees properly
An employee exhibiting typical COVID -19 symptoms, or who is asymptomatic but has been in contact with an infected person, should not come to workplace. If they are at the workplace, they should be advised to seek medical advice as soon as possible and be sent home.
Consider the feasibility of alternative working options
When there is reason to believe that coming to work will increase the risk of transmission to all employees, employers should, in advance, consider which employees can be asked to work remotely and for what periods of time.
Consider alternative employment arrangements
Employers may also consider, to the extent permitted under and subject to the requirement of the applicable labor laws, requesting employees to take paid or unpaid leave or switch to part-time or short-term working. Under certain circumstances, termination based on just grounds (with immediate effect) may be possible for both employees and employers.
Advise traveling employees properly
Consider limiting or not allowing employee business travel. Employees who must travel should be advised to take certain steps before traveling such as informing the employer about the destination and reasons to travel. In the event that an employee is infected or becomes ill during a business trip the situation could be evaluated as an occupational accident.
Information that an employee or an employee’s family member has been infected should remain confidential. Employers should review data protection and collection notifications. If employers need to process any medical data (collect, store, use, transfer, etc.), explicit consent of employees must be obtained.
Employers should continue to stay updated in regard to new information published by public health authorities. Where appropriate, new information should be disseminated via the employer’s communication plan to employees.