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 criteria of the Employment Contracts Act are met. The legal notice period for lay-offs is 14 days. During the lay-off notice period, employees continue to work as usual and the employer must pay their salaries for this period. A different lay-off notice period can also be agreed on in collective agreements.
A fixed-term employee 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.
Workplaces with more than 20 employees must follow the procedures for lay-offs set out in the Co-operation Act.
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 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.
Can employers reschedule their staff’s annual holidays due to the coronavirus situation?
No. Annual leave is also taken as planned if lay-offs start at the workplace. An 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.