Coronavirus and Profession: Rights and Duties

Many employees are currently asking themselves: Do I have to go to work or even on a business trip despite the epidemic? Can I stay in the home office instead? A lawyer answers these questions and more

Caution: It is better to discuss the home office with the employer, otherwise a warning could be issued

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Those who sneeze, cough or blow their nose are often viewed with suspicion by those around them these days. The fear of the corona virus runs deep. Authorities and companies are taking drastic measures to curb the spread of the pathogen. Companies, daycare centers and schools are closed, employees are sent to the home office, trade fairs and other major events are canceled. In working life, too, fear of the pathogen causes problems and raises questions.

I am afraid of contracting the coronavirus. Do i have to go to work?

Just the fear of catching the virus on the way or at work is not enough to stay at home. "Employees are obliged to work. They are only allowed to stay away if they are actually unable to work," explains Cologne lawyer Christian Solmecke.

Can I work from home so as not to take any risks?

If the company already has home office or special regulations due to the coronavirus, it is possible to work from home in consultation with the boss. Anyone who stays at home without authorization must expect a warning. If the misconduct is repeated, it can even lead to termination. "The legal situation is different if an employee is infected with the coronavirus. If a specific risk of infection is proven, employees are allowed to work from home if their work and their living situation allow this," said Solmecke.

My employer wants to send me on a business trip abroad. Can he currently do that?

In principle, he is allowed to do so. The employment contract states whether an employee is obliged to work abroad. A foreign assignment can also be arranged without a contractual agreement - if the employee agrees. However, in addition to the authority to issue instructions, the employer also has a duty of care towards the employees. This includes protecting the health of employees. If there is an official travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office, employees do not have to travel to the relevant country or affected area. "In other cases, the individual situation of the employee can also play a role. If there is a previous illness, this can lead to the fact that the employee can refuse the trip. However, this must be checked on a case-by-case basis," explains lawyer Christian Solmecke . Basically, it is advisable to come to an agreement and find a solution that suits everyone.

My employer is closing due to the coronavirus. Do I have to sacrifice vacation days for this?

If the employer closes at short notice on his own initiative and the employees cannot come to work as a result, there is no need to take compulsory leave. Here one speaks of so-called default of acceptance (cf. § 615 BGB). It would look different with company holidays that have been announced for a long time. In this case, companies can absolutely require employees to take part of the annual vacation at a certain time. However, this does not apply to a closure due to the coronavirus.

Will I continue to receive my salary if my business is closed?

If the company closes, workers will not face major financial losses. According to the Federal Ministry of Labor, they are entitled to continued payment of their wages. A temporary closure is one of the classic operational risks. If it is an official closure, the companies can have the money for the salaries reimbursed by the respective federal state.

I have to be in quarantine. Do I still get my wages?

Those who have to stay at home sick continue to receive their salary. The same rules apply to Covid-19 as to other cases of illness. According to the Infection Protection Act, employees who are not sick but are still in quarantine are entitled to compensation in the amount of the loss of earnings. The employer pays, but can have the costs reimbursed by the authority that ordered the quarantine. After the end of the quarantine, he has three months to assert his claim. If the isolation lasts longer than six weeks, those affected receive sick pay.

I am self employed. Who pays for the loss of earnings in the event of quarantine?

The self-employed are also entitled to compensation for lost fees. To do this, you must contact the responsible authority yourself within three months. The amount depends on the profit that was determined in the tax assessment for the last calendar year.

What happens if I can't get to work because there is no public transport?

The employee bears the so-called path risk and is therefore responsible for arriving at work on time. "However, if there is no opportunity to come to work, the salary can also not be paid. A warning will not come directly, however. This would only be the case if the lack of punctuality is to blame", explains lawyer Christian Solmecke. This is only different if collective agreements or works agreements expressly provide for a different regulation.

My child's school / daycare center closes. Can I stay at home?

Regardless of whether the child is being looked after or not: An employee generally owes his or her job and, in the worst-case scenario, has to find alternative care. "If there is no need to organize childcare at all, there may be a so-called right to refuse performance for one of the parents, especially with smaller children. In this case, the employer must release the employee in case of doubt - but then free of charge," says lawyer Christian Solmecke. If the relationship between employer and employee is intact, it is often possible to work on absenteeism or to take short-term vacation. But there is no entitlement to it. The employee cannot take short-term vacation of his own accord, because every vacation must be requested and approved.

Can I ask my employer to provide breathing masks or protective clothing?

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and are obliged to protect them from serious physical threats. This also includes observing hygiene regulations in order to counteract the spread of diseases - and providing protective clothing if necessary. "Anyone who works in an office or is a salesman in a department store is no more at risk than it is privately. That is why employees in 'normal' professions cannot ask for protective clothing. However, those who deal with corona patients in the isolation ward in the hospital are at risk Appropriate clothing including a breathing mask is of course entitled ", says lawyer Christian Solmecke. In addition, the employer has the duty to inform his employees about the risk of infection and disease. Especially when the increased risks are known - for example if there are people traveling to China among the employees.

Can I wear a face mask at my workplace?

This question is still legally controversial. "Employees who have no customer contact are hardly legally prohibited from wearing respiratory masks. Something different applies when employees have customer contact, be it in the hotel, as a representative or as a salesperson. Here, the employer has to weigh up business interests and employee interests ", explains lawyer Solmecke. Since the number of infected people in Germany is currently still low in most regions, the employer's interest should currently still outweigh.