If you’re like many this week you, your partner or roommates and your children of all ages may be working from home. Schools of all levels are closed and maybe have instituted distance learning. Day care centers are closed too. So are libraries, coffee shops, restaurants and other places remote workers go to think and work. Successful working is about more than just having good WiFi. So, what are the options if remote working is not working for your employees or they simply cannot do their job from home?
- Paid Annual Leave (Vacation): To the extent employees have not exhausted their annual leave allowance, employees can be permitted to use their annual leave days. Employers are cautioned to consider local laws. For example, France has now waived the rule that annual leave dates cannot be changed with less than one month’s notice – so employees can choose to use their annual leave days during this period – but this does not permit employers to mandate employees use their annual leave days.
- Take Parental or Caregiver’s Leave: Many countries have generous parental and caregiver leave entitlements. Depending on the age of the children and local law, this job-protected time off may be paid, unpaid or eligible for a government allowance. For example, in Sweden parents may take government funded leave of up to 18 months old to care for their child after birth (the time is shared between the parents) and may also take time off to care for sick children, up to and including the day the child turns 12 years old or when the child finishes grade 5 in compulsory school.
- Temporary Emergency (or Force Majeure) Leave: Many countries provide employees with a limited right to time off for urgent family reasons. For example, in Ireland employees have the right to take a paid force majeure leave if their immediate presence is indispensable due to an injury or illness of a close family member. Whether the need to attend to a family member who has a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or, even to care for a healthy child out of school or day care because of COVID-19-related closures qualifies is something we expect to be clarified in the coming days.
- Special/Covid Emergency Leaves; Furloughs: Some countries have temporary schemes that can provide relief to employees or companies impacted by COVID-19-related partial and full operational shutdowns. For example, in Italy, employees who cannot work from home may have access to temporary unemployment funds. In the Netherlands, the government has advised that employers can apply for permits for COVID-19-related temporary reductions in the working hours of its staff if hours will be reduced by at least 20%. Permits may be requested for periods of two to 24 weeks. In France, employers are entitled to government reimbursement (with the amount dependent on the size of the enterprise) for employees impacted by a temporary partial or full shutdown of operations if they provide impacted employees with a 70% paid leave of absence.
- Discretionary Leaves: Regardless of legal obligations, companies often have in place (or may now be willing to offer) discretionary leave policies. If your company is considering offering a paid discretionary, it is suggested that the benefit be structured to supplement (“top off”) statutory leaves otherwise available to the employee so that company leave can be integrated with other payment sources and avoid double dipping.
Remote working has been officially endorsed by governments in COVID-19-impacted countries around the globe. However, because remote working will not work for everyone, we recommend that companies review their leave policies and local requirements to can help employees navigate their options.