Questions on coronavirus and occupational safety and health
Coronavirus - Frequently asked questions
The ability of an employer to provide work is reduced by the coronavirus. Can an employer lay off an employee?
Yes, if the economic and production-related criteria of the Employment Contracts Act are met.
During the time when the temporary amendments to the Employment Contracts Act were valid, 1 April to 31 December 2020, a 5-day period of notice could be applied to lay-offs. As of 1 January 2021, the legal period of notice will be 14 days again. Due to the coronavirus situation, collective agreements can contain provisions which may be different from this, which is why you should check the provisions of collective agreements on the websites of the employees and employers’ organisations. During the lay-off notice period, employees continue to work as usual and the employer must pay their salaries for this period. Workplaces with more than 20 employees must also follow the procedures for lay-offs set out in the Co-operation Act. If you have any questions about co-operation procedures, please contact the Cooperation Ombudsman.
Can an employer agree with an employee on the lay-off beginning immediately?
Yes, they can. The employer and the employee can also agree on a lay-off for a fixed period if this is necessary in view of the employer’s operations or financial standing. It should be noted, however, that making such an agreement may have an effect on the employee’s unemployment benefits.
The lay-off notice period specified in the Employment Contracts Act can also be agreed otherwise in collective agreements. The purpose of the notice period is to secure the employee's salary during this notice period. Adherence to the notice periods for lay-offs under the Employment Contracts Act or the collective agreement has an effect on when the employee's entitlement to an unemployment benefit begins for the lay-off period.
For additional information on the right to unemployment benefits during lay-offs, please visit the TE Services website: What to do if you are laid off.
Can an employer lay off a fixed-term worker?
This depends on the employer for whom the employee is working. Usually, fixed-term employees cannot be laid off unless the employee is working as a substitute for a permanent employee and if the employer would also be entitled to lay off the permanent employee if the permanent employee were working.
Due to the coronavirus situation, however, an employer was also entitled to lay off a fixed-term employee under the temporary amendment to the Employment Contracts Act and the Seafarers’ Employment Contract Act. The amendment was in force until 31 December 2020.
In which jobs can an employer, due to the coronavirus, deviate from the provisions of the Employment Contracts Act, the Annual Holiday Act, and the Finnish Working Hours Act?
Deviations are no longer permitted. While the Emergency Powers Act was in force, employers in the health care and social services sector were able to, for example, deviate from the normal ceilings for overtime and postpone employees’ annual holidays. This is no longer possible as of 16 June 2020.
Can workers be called for emergency work on the basis of the corona epidemic?
Only if the conditions for emergency work are met. Under the Finnish Working Hours Act, having the staff perform emergency work requires an unexpected event that interferes or seriously threatens to interfere with normal operations or poses a threat to life, health or property. The mere fact that a current epidemic may lead to these consequences is not sufficient to justify emergency work.
The employer shall use the means at their disposal to prepare for the prevailing conditions. If simultaneous sick leaves or other unexpected circumstances threaten to result in the aforementioned consequences, the conditions for emergency work may be fulfilled. The epidemic may limit the employer's ability to prepare and therefore, emergency work may be considered more likely than usual.
If the employer decides to have their employees perform emergency work, this must be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Division at Regional State Administrative Agency of Southwestern Finland; see contact details here. The report must be accompanied by a statement from the shop steward or other employees' representative.
For guidance on having employees perform emergency work, see Emergency work.
Does an employee have the right to be paid if he/she has to stay home to care for a child due to coronavirus?
It depends on what your industry’s collective agreement has agreed on the matter.
If your child has been ordered to stay in quarantine or in quarantine-like conditions because of, for example, possibly having been exposed to the virus, your absence from work is principally unpaid as referred to in the Employment Contracts Act. Collective agreements may have other decrees regarding this, so check the matter in the collective agreement applicable to your employment relationship. If possible, you can agree to work remotely, which means you are entitled to salary. However, you may be entitled to sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease if your child is under 16 years old and you are prohibited from doing your work because of their illness. More information on the allowance on account of an infectious disease is available on Kela’s website.
If your child falls ill, you may be absent for up to four working days at a time in order to care for a child under ten years of age. However, according to the Employment Contracts Act, this is an unpaid absence. Most collective agreements have decrees that deviate from this, so check whether the absence is paid or unpaid from the collective agreement applicable to your employment relationship. Some collective agreements have also raised the age limit to 12 years. If you and your employer have agreed that you will be working remotely during this time, you have the right to salary for the completed working hours.
Please also note that if you were forced to take unpaid leave to look after your child before 13 May, you may be entitled to temporary financial assistance due to the epidemic outbreak from Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.
Can an employment contract be cancelled during the trial period due to the coronavirus situation?
No, the possibility for cancelling a trial period due to financial or production-related reasons ended on 31 December 2020. Before that, cancellation was possible as long as the other criteria were met. Even in such a case, the right to cancel an employment contract did not apply to the state, municipalities, joint municipal authorities, Kela, the Provincial Government of Åland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Orthodox Lutheran Church as employers.
However, during the time of validity of the temporary amendments to the Employment Contracts Act, 1 April to 31 December 2020, it was not possible for the employer to cancel the employment contract if it was possible to have the employee assigned to or retrained for other duties, if the employer has employed new employees for similar duties recently or right after the cancellation during the trial period, or if no actual reduction of work has taken place as a result of work reorganisation.
I was furloughed while I was still on my trial period. Will my trial period be extended as a result of the furlough?
No. Employers can, in some circumstances, extend an employee’s trial period if they take parental leave or sick leave, but not due to a furlough.
Is my employer obligated to re-employ me if the employer has terminated my employment contract due to reduction of work during the coronavirus situation?
Yes, if your employment contract was terminated on production-related or financial grounds and if you are still registered as an unemployed jobseeker when your former employer needs new employees for similar duties. In such cases, the employer is obligated to offer you work during a period of 9 months after the end of the employment relationship.
Due to the coronavirus situation, the re-employment period has been extended to 9 months under the temporary amendment to the Employment Contracts Act and the Seafarers’ Employment Contract Act. According to the Employment Contracts Act, this re-employment period usually lasts 4 months (or 6 months if the employment contract has lasted for at least 12 months).
This amendment does not, however, apply to the state, municipalities, joint municipal authorities, Kela, the Provincial Government of Åland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Orthodox Church as employers. The usual re-employment obligation period is applied to these employers. The extended re-employment obligation applies to employment contracts which have been terminated during the period in which the amended act was in force (from 1 April 2020 until 31 December 2020).
I have an employee’s residence permit for working as a cook, but I was laid off due to the coronavirus situation. Can I accept a farm work offer?
No you can’t. There was a special provision regarding farm work and certain other essential duties that was in force until the end of October (31 October 2020). Under these temporary provisions, third-country nationals residing in Finland with a residence permit or a permit based on the Seasonal Workers Act were able to change employer and field of employment without applying for an extended permit in the case of essential duties. For more information, see the press release from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.
The posted workers working for my company are unable to leave Finland. Can they continue working for more than three months?
No, they cannot. The laws governing the posting of workers have not been changed, meaning that the usual provisions are applied. If a posted worker wishes to work in Finland for longer than three months, an application for a residence permit of an employed person should be submitted.
Can employers reschedule their staff’s annual holidays due to the coronavirus situation?
No. Now that the state of emergency has been lifted, this is no longer possible even in the health care and social services sector.
How will lay-offs affect annual holidays?
Annual holidays will be taken as planned, even if lay-offs would start in the company. Annual holiday can also be taken during a lay-off in cases where an employee is entitled to holiday pay, but not to unemployment benefits.
Payment of holiday bonus is not based on law, but on a collective agreement or an employment contract, so this matter must be verified in the applicable collective agreement or employment contract.
Can employers cancel fixed-term employment contracts due to the coronavirus situation?
Fixed-term contracts cannot be cancelled, even if the situation has changed. Verbal agreements are as legally binding as written ones. In addition, fixed-term contracts cannot be terminated, unless the provisions of termination have been agreed when the employment contract was concluded. Furthermore, the employment relationship cannot be terminated (as a regular or trial period cancellation) before the work is started.
Foreign employees will be coming in to work for our company. What coronavirus-related matters should I take into consideration?
This depends on several aspects. Where are the employees coming from? What kind of work will they be doing? What will their working conditions be like? What is the employer’s assessment of the potential risk of infection?
People coming from certain countries are recommended to remain in self-isolation. The latest travel advice can be found on the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ website. More detailed information about when and how people should remain in self-isolation can be found on the website of the National Institute for Health and Welfare. It is the employer’s duty to assess whether the employee’s tasks are something that can be done safely after arriving in the country. For example, the risk of infection is significantly different in office work than in tasks which can be performed alone outdoors.
The employer should note that persons coming from high-risk countries may be ordered to remain in quarantine by an official decision made under the Communicable Diseases Act and that non-compliance with the decision is a punishable act. Persons ordered to remain in quarantine are not allowed to go to work.
Even if the employees do not need to remain in quarantine or self-isolation, the employer should assess the risks concerning them and take necessary action to minimise the risk of infection at the workplace.
Can an employer oblige an employee to go to work immediately after returning from abroad?
Depends on where the employee was travelling. People coming from certain countries are recommended to remain in self-isolation. The latest travel advice can be found on the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ website, and more detailed quarantine information is available on the website of the National Institute for Health and Welfare.
Unnecessary close contact should be avoided during self-isolation. It is the employer’s duty to do an infection risk assessment and, if necessary, make changes to the employee’s tasks for the duration of the self-isolation to ensure the safety of the work community. The employee can work remotely from home, for example. If it is not possible to change the employee’s duties or work remotely from home, the employee can agree to take their annual holiday or other leave. If this is not possible, the inability to work may be due to a reason with the employee, in which case the employer is not obligated to pay wages.
The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has announced that under certain conditions, persons arriving from high-risk countries may be ordered to remain in officially imposed quarantine under the Communicable Diseases Act. During quarantine, the employee is prohibited from visiting the workplace and must remain in quarantine under threat of penalty. For more on the topic, see the section Remote work and attendance at the workplace > “Can the employer order an employee to come in to work while the employee is in quarantine?”.
Must the employer still pay wages if an employee is in self-isolation or quarantine after a trip abroad and is unable to come in to work?
The situation must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Factors to be taken into consideration include whether the trip was for business or leisure and what was the destination.It must also be taken into account that there have never been situations or legal cases like this before. The final interpretation will not be made until court, in case ambiguous cases proceed to legal steps.
If the employee remains in self-isolation following a business trip, the employee is, as a rule, entitled to their pay. If the employee is ordered to remain in quarantine after a business trip, the employer may be reimbursed by Kela for wages paid (sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease).
If an employee has been travelling for leisure and voluntary quarantine is recommended for travellers returning from the country in question, the employee and employer must agree on necessary arrangements for the two-week period following the return to Finland. Updated information about recommendations for voluntary quarantine and its duration can be found on the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare website. It is recommended to stay away from your workplace during quarantine. The employee can work remotely or the employer can organize tasks so that there is no contact with other employees. The employee and employer may also agree on taking an annual leave or other leave. If this is not possible, the inability to work may be due to a reason with the employee, in which case the employer is not obligated to pay wages.
The above information is based on the provisions of the Employment Contracts Act. Collective agreements may also contain more detailed provisions on the obligation to pay wages.
How shall an employer take the coronavirus into account in the workplace risk assessment?
Workplaces shall update their hazard analysis and risk assessment in the light of the coronavirus situation. The analysis and assessment shall be kept up-to-date and reviewed, in particular in the event of changes in circumstances which may affect employees' exposure to the coronavirus. The employer must also keep the risk assessment and the underlying information and, upon request, provide it to the occupational safety and health authority. These obligations are based on the Decree on Biological Agents, the amendment of which entered into force on 15 November 2020.
The risk assessment shall take into account, among other things, the nature of the work, the regional infection situation, the possibility of teleworking, the number and duration of close contacts, and the possibility to use personal protective equipment. The need for travel and the resulting risk of infection must also be taken into account. In updating the risk assessment, the employer must, if necessary, consult the occupational health care. The task of the occupational health care is, among other things, to assess the significance on health on the basis of the risk assessment and to advise the employer on occupational safety and health measures for risk groups. The employer shall, together with occupational health care, assess how an employee who is part of a risk group can work safely.
See also the section Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine to find out how the vaccination affects the assessment of risks.
More information in the press release of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health: The protection of employees against the risk posed by biological agents will be enhanced (in Finnish).
See also the website of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health for guidelines for workplaces to prevent coronavirus infection.
Taking the epidemic situation into account, what measures should an employer take on the basis of the risk assessment?
Employers are required to take steps to limit the risk of exposure. In the coronavirus situation, the primary measure to prevent worker exposures is to avoid human contact. The employer shall assess the need for workers to arrive at the workplace from the point of view of the workers' health. One way to avoid contact is to work remotely; if it is impossible, the workplace conditions shall be organized to minimize the risk of exposure. These measures may include enhanced cleaning, hygiene instructions for employees, use of protective screens to prevent drip infections, guidelines for workers to avoid exposure to corona, and advice on situations where exposure or illness is suspected, and various shift arrangements. Another recommended measure is to avoid unnecessary gatherings in breakrooms in the workplace.
If there is a significantly increased risk of infection, personal protective equipment such as breathing protection, gloves, goggles and, if necessary, protective clothing shall be used. Maintenance, cleaning, and replacement of personal protective equipment must be maintained at all times.
Is an employer obliged to maintain a list of employees exposed to the coronavirus at work?
Yes, if it can be established that the exposure has taken place specifically at work.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must maintain a list of employees exposed at work to biological agents that cause serious hazards or risks to safety or health. This obligation applies to biological agents in hazard classes 3 and 4. Coronavirus belongs to class 3.
The list must be maintained if it can be established that the employee has been in contact at work with a person infected with the coronavirus or exposed to material containing the coronavirus. Mere possibility of exposure at work does not yet constitute an obligation of maintaining a list for the employer. Even so, the employee's vaccination protection does not remove the obligation register when one of exposed.
The amendment of the Biological Agents Decree entered into force on 15 November 2020. According to that, the list must indicate the name and profession of the exposed employee, the industry of the place of employment and the nature of the work carried out, information on the biological agent that caused the exposure to the extent known and a description of how and when the exposure took place.
More information: Employees exposed to coronavirus at work must be listed (pdf file)
Can workers claim compensation for a coronavirus infection under the rules on occupational diseases?
Yes, provided that the criteria set out in the Workers’ Compensation Act are satisfied. Occupational safety and health authorities are not competent to determine what counts as an occupational disease or whether the criteria are satisfied. It is up to the worker’s insurance company to decide whether workers’ compensation is payable. The Workers’ Compensation Act defines an occupational disease as a disease that is likely to have developed primarily due to exposures to physical, chemical or biological agents in the workplace or in connection with work.
If a doctor suspects that a patient is suffering from an occupational or work-related disease within the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Act, they must immediately and notwithstanding any obligation of confidence report the case to their Regional State Administrative Agency’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. An inspector from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health can then contact the patient and ask them for permission to raise the issue with the employer. The aim of inspections carried out on the basis of reported cases of occupational diseases is to ensure that working conditions in the affected workplace have been rectified to prevent similar cases in the future.
How should risk groups be taken into account at work?
The employer must assess whether the employee’s risk of getting infected with coronavirus at work is elevated compared to the rest of the population. The number of close contacts, their duration, the likelihood of a close contact being infected and the possibility of protection must be taken into account in the risk assessment. If necessary, the employer must ask occupational health care to help with the risk assessment to ensure that there is sufficient expertise available.
If the risk of infection is significantly elevated, the employer must take occupational safety and health measures. The primary measure to prevent employee exposure is to avoid social contact or limit the number of contacts. If social contact cannot be avoided due to the nature of the work, it must be assessed if the risk can be reduced sufficiently with protective solutions.
In the assessment of sufficient measures, the employer’s obligation, together with occupational health care, to assess how an employee who is a member of a risk group can work safely is emphasised. If it is not possible to use protective measures, among other things, to reduce the risk at work sufficiently, the employee should be given other duties that do not have a similar risk of infection.
Further information on what should be taken into account in the risk assessment in the coronavirus situation can be found in the instructions of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health for workplaces: Guidelines of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health for employees who are at risk of serious illness from the coronavirus (COVID-19) (in Finnish).
Do employees belonging to a risk group need be paid their wages, if they cannot conduct their work due to the corona epidemic?
It depends on the situation. If an employee’s health is at risk when performing their work duties, the employer must take action to prevent the risk. If the employer can offer the employee other work which will not cause a corresponding risk to their health, this can primarily be done. If the employer is unable to offer the work agreed upon in the employment contract, the employer can agree on other work tasks with the employee. The employee can also be required to participate in training.
If a physician finds that an employee is incapacitated for work, the employee is paid wages as normal for the period of sick leave in accordance with the collective agreement and Employment Contract Act.
If none of these alternatives is applicable for the employee’s situation, the employer’s obligation to pay wages depends on whether the employee or employer is seen to be responsible for the employee’s absence. In this regard, it must be taken into account that equivalent situations have not occurred earlier and, thus, there are also no precedent cases. The final interpretation will not be made until court, in case ambiguous cases proceed to legal steps.
The possibilities for work of those belonging to a risk group should be evaluated in cooperation with occupational health care services. See also the answer to the question “How should risk groups be taken into account at work?”.
What do the Occupational Safety and Health Authorities monitor in relation to the coronavirus situation?
The Occupational Safety and Health Authorities do not monitor compliance with government guidelines, but they do monitor work to ensure that it is safe and that the minimum requirements for occupational safety and health are met even during the coronavirus situation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Authorities also do not monitor compliance with government guidelines relating to patient or customer safety, travel restrictions or quarantine. These fall under the responsibility of other authorities. More information on the above mentioned can be found the websites of the Regional State Administrative Agency, National Institute for Health and Welfare of Finland (THL) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
In office work, can the employer require employees to come to work, or does the employer have to accept remote work?
In these cases, the employer must take into account the current recommendations for remote work. Follow the recommendations of your own region that are available at the webpage of Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare The COVID-19 epidemic: regional situation, recommendations and restrictions.
The employer has to assess if it is necessary to come to the workplace and the employees’ health into consideration. In accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the employer is responsible for minimising the risk of infection at work. The most efficient way to do this is by limiting unnecessary contact between employees. In office work, the easiest and surest way to avoid contact is by working from home. The employer is responsible for the employees’ safety, even if the employer requires them to work in the office. If the employer allows or requires the employees to work in the office, the employees should be instructed on how to minimise the risk of infection at work, for example, by keeping a safe distance from others.
Can a workplace occupational safety and health representative or a shop steward order an employee suffering from symptoms of a flu to go home?
Yes, the OSH representative can, if there are weighty reasons to do so. The shop steward does not have the same right.
The OSH representative can suspend work if it causes a serious and immediate danger to the life or health of the employee. The threshold for suspending work is high. In case of the coronavirus, such a situation could occur if an employee with symptoms was working in contact with an employee who is a member of a risk group.
The OSH representative shall notify the employer of the suspension of work. The sick employee shall be advised to leave the workplace and contact the occupational or public health care. A person with a suspected coronavirus infection shall not go directly to see the doctor.
The shop steward does not have the same legal right to suspend work.
Can an employer order an employee to arrive at the workplace, if the employee is quarantined?
No. If a physician has ordered an employee into quarantine as a measure taken under the Communicable Diseases Act, the employee’s non-compliance with the quarantine decision is a punishable act. It is then a question of a compelling reason outside the control of the employee or the employer which prevents the employee from arriving at the workplace. The employee needs to inform the employer of this situation. The employer, in turn, is obliged to also consider the safety of other employees. If, however, the employee is able to work remotely, the employer can require the employee to continue working during the quarantine.
Does the employer have to pay wages if an employee is in self-isolation or self-quarantine?
If an employee has isolated or quarantined on their own accord (not ordered by an authority), the employee is not in principle entitled to wages. But if the employee continues to work during quarantine or isolation, they are entitled to pay. The place of work is agreed upon with the employer. The employee and employer may also agree on using up annual leave or taking other leave.
The employee is only entitled to sick pay if they are unable to work. As a rule, inability to work is assessed by a health care professional, but a workplace may also have a practice where it allows sick leave based on the employee’s own notification. With regard to these practices, the employer must communicate clearly what to do if an employee gets a positive result from a coronavirus home test but does not have any symptoms and is therefore able to work.
If the employee’s self-quarantine is issued by the employer, for example because of exposure at the workplace, the employee is prevented from working because of the employer. In that case, the employee is entitled to pay. The same applies in situations where self-quarantine is part of the precautions after a business trip, for example.
This response is based on the provisions of the Employment Contracts Act. Collective agreements may also contain more detailed provisions on the obligation to pay wages.
Can an employer prohibit an employee from getting tested for the coronavirus? Does the employer have an obligation to pay wages while the employee is waiting for the test results?
An employer cannot prohibit an employee from getting tested for the coronavirus. Also, using a health care service is an acceptable reason for being absent from work. Whether salary is paid during the test appointment is determined by the applicable collective agreement.
If a person is found to be incapacitated for work during (or before) the coronavirus testing, he or she is entitled to sickness allowance for the period of incapacity for work. The employee is required to provide a reliable medical certificate of his or her incapacity for work.
If an employee is able to work when seeking to get tested for the coronavirus, the work must be done either remotely or in another manner that does not expose others to the virus, until the test results are completed. The employer must define the ways that guarantee healthy and safe work in the workplace and that prevent the employee from spreading the virus while working. The guidelines should be based on a careful risk assessment.
If an employee or their child aged under 16 has been diagnosed with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection, the employee has the right to refrain from working in order to avoid the risk of spreading coronavirus if they are unable to work from home. In this case, they are also entitled to sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease without an official isolation order between 1 January and 30 June 2022. When applying for sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease from Kela, a certificate issued by a doctor, nurse or public health nurse must be presented for the period when the person is not recommended to participate in gainful employment due to the risk of spreading coronavirus. The infectious disease allowance is paid to the employer to the extent that the employer has paid wages for the period of absence from work. You will find more information on Kela's website: Sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease.
Can the employer demand an employee to provide a negative COVID-19 test result before arriving at the workplace?
No, because a negative COVID-19 test result also falls under the umbrella of health data according to the current interpretation of the Data Protection Ombudsman. Employers can process data on employees’ COVID-19 test results only when it is necessary for the payment of sick pay or to clarify whether the employee has a valid reason for absence. The interpretation is the same for official health care tests and home tests.
The policy of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority follows the legislative interpretation of the Data Protection Ombudsman, which has now changed. Aligned with the position of the Data Protection Ombudsman, the position of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority has been different on this matter until December 2021
There is one exception in the social welfare and health care sector, related to social welfare and health care workers’ obligation to get vaccinated. According to section 48a of the Communicable Diseases Act, an exception is made for social welfare and health care workers who cannot get a COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons. They can demonstrate protection against coronavirus disease with a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before arriving to work each shift.
What should the employer do if an employee gets a positive result from a coronavirus home test?
The employer is responsible for preventing risk of infection at the workplace. One key way to avoid further infections is to ensure that employees who have been infected with coronavirus do not come to the workplace or come in contact with other employees. This rule of thumb applies to both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected employees.
If the employee is unable to work due to their symptoms, they are instructed to stay at home to recover according to the practices of the workplace. With the ongoing epidemic, it is recommended to allow sick leave based on employees’ own notifications.
A responsible employer will instruct employees with no symptoms who have tested positive for coronavirus to stay at home as well. In this case, the employee will work from home. If working from home is not possible due to the nature of the tasks, the employer and the employee can agree on alternative work that can be done remotely.
What options does an employer have if their employee does not want to get vaccinated against the coronavirus?
Getting vaccinated against the coronavirus is voluntary, and an employer cannot force an employee to do so. If a risk assessment is carried out, and it is determined that non-vaccination poses a hazard, the employer must first and foremost make an effort to reorganise work tasks so the employee can be offered work that is in accordance with their employment contract. If such work cannot be offered, the employee must be offered, wherever possible, work that otherwise corresponds with their competence and experience, for which the employee can reasonably be trained and which they can carry out safely. The employer must see to their employees’ health and safety, for example, by providing respiratory masks.
Can an employee get vaccinated for COVID-19 during working hours?
Employees have the right to get the COVID-19 vaccine during working hours if it cannot without difficulty be organised at another time. The part of an employee's daily regular working hours used for getting the vaccine is considered working time (Section 45 of the Communicable Diseases Act). In this case, the employer is also obliged to pay wage for this time.
Can employers collect data on their employees’ coronavirus vaccinations?
Outside the social welfare and health care sector, employers can only process data on employees’ coronavirus vaccinations when processing the data is necessary for the payment of sick pay or other equivalent health-related benefits or to clarify whether the employee has a valid reason for absence. Processing vaccination data is also allowed if the employee explicitly wishes that their ability to work is investigated. For this purpose, vaccination data may be important when assessing an employee’s ability to work, for example in situations where there is danger of exposure. Vaccination data shall be collected primarily from the employee concerned. Collecting vaccination data from an external operator requires obtaining the employee’s written consent.
This policy is based on a new interpretation by the Data Protection Ombudsman (27 August 2021) stating that data on an employee’s coronavirus vaccination is health data intended the Act on the Protection of Privacy in Working Life.
In everyday working life, it is common for an employee to tell others that they have had the coronavirus vaccination. When information is shared verbally, it does not constitute the kind of processing referred to in the Act on the Protection of Privacy in Working Life. However, the employer may not verbally repeat this information; this matter falls under the employer's don-disclosure obligation.
If an employer prepares work instructions related to vaccinated workers, employees’ vaccination data may not be included. Separate work instructions for vaccinated workers are possible when compliance is left to the employee’s own discretion and the instructions do not place anyone at a disadvantage without real requirements on the quality and performance of the tasks. Even in these cases, treatment must be proportionate to achieve the legitimate objective.
How about the social welfare and health care sector?
The circumstances for the social welfare and health care sector are different from other workplaces as a result of the temporary amendment to section 48 a of the Communicable Diseases Act, which entered into force on 1 January 2022. The amendment allows employers to process information related to COVID-19 vaccinations and infections to ensure that the health of particularly vulnerable clients or patients is not endangered due to COVID-19. This information must be processed according to the same rules as any other employee health data. This means that the processing must be as limited as possible and the employer must specifically appoint persons entitled to process the health data of other employees.
This legislation applies to all social welfare and health care tasks that involve close contact with clients or patients who are at risk of severe COVID-19 if infected.
If an employee does not have protection against COVID-19 as referred to in legislation, the employer must primarily offer the employee other work in accordance with their employment contract – or, if no such work is available, other work suitable for the employee. If no such work is available or if the employee refuses to accept it, the employer is not obligated to pay wages for the period during which work is prevented, unless otherwise agreed in the collective agreement.
Further information: Government proposal with justifications (pdf, in Finnish)
Can vaccinated employees be ordered to perform work involving risk of exposure to coronavirus without wearing protective equipment?
No. This applies even though the assessment of risks and the selection of safe working methods can and should take into account the personal characteristics of employees. Due to the uncertainty of coronavirus vaccination in preventing COVID-19 infections, vaccinated employees must be protected at the workplace as well.
Does the vaccination of employees affect the assessment of risks?
Based on a risk assessment, the employer can change the duties or working conditions of employees who have received a coronavirus vaccine as long as the changes do not jeopardise their safety. Such changes can be made to, for example, orders to work remotely. In these situations, instructions must be given at a general level, and the employer may not collect data on employees’ vaccination status. Receiving a coronavirus vaccine does not affect the use of protective equipment as getting vaccinated does not necessarily prevent becoming infected with the virus or passing it on.
Is it discrimination to suspend the pay of a social welfare and health care worker who is not vaccinated against COVID-19?
Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee is placed at a disadvantage on grounds referred to in the Non-Discrimination Act. However, all employer actions perceived as discriminatory do not necessarily constitute discrimination under the Non-Discrimination Act. One example is when the employer’s actions are based on another Act.
Provisions on the COVID-19 vaccine protection of social welfare and health care workers are laid down in section 48a of the Communicable Diseases Act. Suspending the payment of wages does not constitute discrimination as referred to in the Non-Discrimination Act when work is prevented by a situation referred to in the Communicable Diseases Act and by the employer complying with legislation. This means that it is not discrimination when the employer requires vaccine protection from persons working in close contact with people susceptible to severe COVID-19.
However, the employer must accept regular coronavirus tests as a prerequisite for coming to work for employees who cannot get the vaccine due to their state of health. With temporary agency work, the company using the services must rely on the agency having investigated the employee’s suitability for the task, also with regard to vaccine protection.
Can the employer require a COVID-19 passport as a prerequisite for coming to the workplace? What about attending a work-related recreational event?
Separate regulations control the use of the COVID-19 passport, and its use has not been extended to workplaces. The employer may not use the COVID-19 passport as a prerequisite for coming to the workplace or otherwise related to the work. The COVID-19 passport cannot be a requirement for recreational events organised by the employer, either. If an event is organised at a restaurant whose capacity or opening hours are affected by the COVID-19 passport, the passport may be checked by restaurant staff, not by the employer.
What must be done at a construction site or other shared workplace to prevent the spread of coronavirus?
When working at a construction site or other shared workplace, the primary measure is to avoid human contact. The work done at the workplace should be planned and implemented so that the employees working there are not in close contact with each other or touch each other unnecessarily.
At a shared workplace, special attention should be paid to the continuous cleaning of the personnel facilities and other areas. The project supervisor of a construction site and the employer exercising the main authority at a shared workplace must ensure the cleanliness of the employees’ personnel facilities so that the areas are cleaned and tidied continuously. For their part, employees must ensure that they do not make an unnecessary mess in the personnel facilities. By staggering the times when work starts and ends as well as the meal and coffee breaks, the number of people present in the personnel facilities at the same time can be reduced.
At the workplace, it should be ensured that all employees working there have the opportunity to wash up and wash their hands in particular. During this epidemic, the workplace should have instructions for employees on hygiene, such as washing and drying the hands as well as other hygienic measures that prevent the spread of coronavirus. If necessary, hand sanitiser should be provided for the use of employees at the workplace.
When using shared tools at the workplace, it should be ensured that they do not allow the coronavirus to spread. Wearing gloves while using the tools helps, if it is possible with regard to occupational safety. In addition, shared tools should always be cleaned thoroughly after use to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
If an employee or the family member of an employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus, or if an employee has otherwise been in close contact with a person infected with coronavirus, the employee must contact the employer immediately. If necessary, the employer must contact the project supervisor of the construction site or the employer exercising the main authority at the shared workplace.
See the website of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health for Covid-19 risk assessment instructions for the construction industry.
What should be done, if there are no respiratory protective devices or disposable overalls available for performing asbestos work?
Asbestos work cannot be performed without appropriate respiratory protective devices. If there are no disposable overalls available, operations and work clothing must be arranged such that no asbestos is carried along in the work clothing from the teardown area/department when exiting. Protective clothing must be suitable for asbestos work with regard to its protective properties.
What should be done, if the mask measurement or health inspection related to asbestos work cannot be performed due to the situation with the corona virus?
Health inspections or mask measurements must be performed immediately after an abnormal situation, when operators performing health inspections and mask measurements are performing them again and it is safe to do so. If the inspections or measurements are related to asbestos removal licences, the matter must be agreed upon separately with the licensing authority Division of Occupational Safety and Health of the Regional State Administrative Agency for Western Finland.
In addition to the questions and answers below, see also Personal protective equipment at work.
When do I have to wear a face mask at work?
Based on a risk assessment, the employer will determine the measures with which the spread of the coronavirus is prevented at the workplace. The measures to be applied are determined based on the level of the risk. If the risk assessment does not indicate that mouth and respiratory protection is needed, the employer may, as a supplementary means of safety management, provide instruction on the use of face masks at work. In addition, the employer must take regional recommendations into consideration.
However, the occupational safety and health authority points out that masks are not personal protective equipment and do not efficiently protect their users against a virus infection. The efficiency of the masks is partly based on as many people as possible wearing them appropriately.
See also the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health guide: Information on face masks, surgical masks and respirators.
Can the employer prohibit employees from wearing face masks in the workplace or make it mandatory to wear face masks?
The employer ultimately has the right to determine, on the basis of their right of direction, how the work is to be performed and with what equipment and as such, this authority also concerns the use of a mask in the workplace. Correspondingly, the employee has an obligation to follow the employer’s instructions and orders. However, the exercise of the authority must be appropriately justified and fair. Wearing a face mask may be justifiable for instance because of customer safety. Ultimately, the extent of the employer's right to manage the work is considered on a case-by-case basis.
If, based on a risk assessment, employees are at increased risk of becoming infected at work and if the risk of exposure cannot be eliminated by work-related arrangements, the employees should be provided with personal protective equipment instead of a mask. A mask is not a personal protective equipment and does not protect the wearer from virus infection. Instead, a respirator meeting the safety requirements does protect the wearer from coronavirus infection.
Can employees use any type of protective equipment as personal protective equipment (PPE)?
If the purpose is to use the protective equipment to protect the employee from contracting an illness at work, i.e. the equipment is used as PPE, only the equipment that meets the relevant requirements should be used. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has published guidelines for the safety requirements for PPE during the coronavirus situation. The guidelines apply to the placing on the market of PPE. See the guidelines of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health for the prevention of coronavirus for information about personal protective equipment against COVID-19.
When the aim is to protect others, for example customers, other types of protective equipment can also be used. The quality requirements and the use of this protective equipment depend on a risk assessment made by the employer. Information on the differences between PPE and other protective equipment can be found on the website of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
Can an employer not provide nurses with protective equipment against coronavirus infection?
The need for protective equipment depends on the tasks. If a nurse examines or cares for people suspected or known to have been infected with coronavirus, the employer must provide him/her with the necessary protective equipment. These include respiratory protection, face masks, protective gloves and protective clothes. The employer must ensure that nurses are able to use the protective equipment properly.
More information about protective equipment in health care can be found in the guide of the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health (in Finnish).
Can an employee refuse to work in customer service, if the employer does not provide personal protective equipment that protects them from the coronavirus?
Only if the work poses a serious risk to the employee’s own life or health or to the life or health of others. The situation must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
For example, in health care where the employees face people infected with the virus, using protective equipment is necessary and the employer must provide it. If there is no protective equipment, refusing to work may be an option.
In other customer service tasks, the employer makes a case-by-case assessment on the use of protective equipment such as respirator masks and protective gloves. In that case, if the work is not considered to cause a serious danger as stated in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, there is no right to refuse work in principle. However, the issue should be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking the type of duties, customer contacts and other working conditions as well as the employee’s personal characteristics into account.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees’ exposure to biological agents that cause hazards or risks to safety or health must be reduced to such a level that these agents do not cause a hazard or risk to the employees’ safety or health. One way to reduce exposure is to purchase personal protective equipment for the employees.
Can an employer disable break rooms / social facilities due to the coronavirus?
Yes, if the employer deems it necessary to prevent the infection from spreading. The employer makes the decision based on the hazard and a risk assessment. However, the employer shall ensure that there are adequate and appropriately equipped facilities for washing, changing, and for keeping clothes at, as well as facilities for dining, resting, toileting, and other personnel use available at or near the workplace, taking into account the nature and duration of the work and the number of workers.
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health guidelines for workplaces
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health guidelines for workplaces to prevent coronavirus infection and about safe return to work.
Regional state administrative agencies’ Q&A
The task of the Occupational Safety and Health Authorities is the responsibility of the Divisions for Occupational Safety and Health of the Regional State Administrative Agencies. Other divisions of the Regional State Administrative Agencies include issues related to social administration and health care, educational institutions, early childhood education, and public events, for example. Frequently asked questions related to them can be found on this Finnish site of the Regional State Administrative Agency.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus and working life.
Daily allowance under the Communicable Diseases Act
If you want to know whether you are entitled to a daily allowance under the Communicable Diseases Act, see the up-to-date information on Kela website.