Employers across the globe closely tracked government actions in response to the pandemic for the past two years and are now adapting to the new era of “living with COVID.” Soon after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to be a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, many countries implemented business continuity programs. These programs sought to aid employers that had to reduce or suspend operations and help their employees manage the health crisis. For example:
- The United Kingdom extended statutory sick pay to cases of deemed incapacity where, for COVID-related reasons, employees could not work. Since this program ended in March 2022, employees with COVID who are asymptomatic are no longer eligible for statutory sick pay even with a positive test result.
- In Canada, the government temporarily implemented financial aid initiatives including wage subsidies for employers and emergency income support for unemployed workers. Now employers in Canada are managing the impact of this pandemic support on wrongful dismissal settlements and damage awards.
Assistance programs subsided as the world entered the second pandemic year in 2021, and employer focus turned to government regulations and guidance affecting return to work measures. Rules and guidance varied around the globe on measures such as self-isolation, face coverings, testing, contact tracing, and workplace health and safety. Then, with increased access to the COVID-19 vaccines, countries established voluntary vaccine programs that facilitated employers’ efforts to implement vaccine policies, especially in countries where vaccines were mandatory for certain workers or citizens within a specific age group. For example:
- China made the vaccine available in phases, and workers with high risks of exposure to COVID-19 were first to receive the vaccine.
- Indonesia mandated vaccination for those aged 12 or over effective February 2021.
- Austria was the first European Union country to mandate vaccination for all its citizens aged 18 or over, effective February 1, 2022.
- Italy required vaccination of citizens over age 50 to enter the workplace effective February 2022, but later revoked the requirement effective April 1, 2022.
Now in 2022, the foreseeable future for global employers includes adjusting to “living with COVID” and a flexible workplace. Countries are taking action by amending existing telecommuting and flexible work legislation or enacting new laws for remote and hybrid work arrangements. For example:
- Italy introduced, in March 2022, the “New Covid Decree,” marking the end of the national state of emergency and establishing requirements for remote work arrangements.
- Brazil imposed an Executive Order in April 2022, proposing changes to the Labor Code that would impact the country’s remote work system.
- Colombia issued two new decrees in April 2022, regarding remote work and work-from-home arrangements.
- Ireland, in January 2022, published a draft scheme of the Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2022, which proposes a process for requests for remote work and a requirement for employers to have a formal remote work policy.
For the remainder of 2022, global employers should review their workplace models and processes for in-person, remote work, and hybrid work to remain compliant with new regulations and receptive to employee requests for flexibility and safety.
Practical Law outlines key considerations for employers implementing hybrid working in this Hybrid Work Checklist. Practical Law also sets out health and safety issues associated with work from home arrangements in the Practice Note Work from home: Health and safety considerations. A collection of Practical Law resources on epidemics, pandemics (such as COVID-19), and business interruption issues is found in the Toolkit Employment Global Coronavirus Toolkit. The Checklist, Practice Note and Toolkit are available to Practical Law subscribers.