Coronavirus – Risk Group Employers?

In an online article for the Tiroler Bezirksblätter, our lawyer Herwig Frei explains which measures employers have to take to protect their employees from contracting COVID-19. A short version of the article also appeared in the printed edition of the Tiroler Bezirksblätter.

Online Edition Bezirksblatt

Employers are sitting on pins and needles. Increased protection against infection for employees is required.

As the economy gradually starts to power up, more and more employees in various sectors are returning to work. However the corona pandemic is far from over, and employers need to continue to comply with their legal duty of care to protect the life and health of their employees. The risk of COVID-19 infections at the workplace must be minimized as far as reasonably possible through organizational safety precaution measures.

There is a wide range of possible protective measures. Adequate hygiene for staff members (disinfectant, soap), more frequent cleaning/disinfecting of the workplace and equipment, increased regular airing as well as clear and documented instructions for observing hygiene rules, distancing and handling of objects should all be part of the standard protection repertoire in corona times. The relevant recommendations (Ministry of Health, AGES, AUVA etc.) are good guidelines in this respect.

Depending on the field of business, size, local conditions, type of workplace (with or without customers, etc.) and other company-specifics, further protective measures may also be necessary. A few examples are plexiglas protective walls in open-plan offices, marking lines to ensure sufficient distancing, a focus on audio and video conferences instead of personal meetings, working hours by schedule, regulations for behaviour during breaks (for use of coffee machines, lounges, canteens), personal protective equipment (mouth and nose protection, gloves, protective suits) and corona tests.

These protective measures and organizational adjustments should be preceded by a thorough risk assessment. It is a good idea to involve experts and reliable people in the company in this process, such as occupational physicians, safety specialists, the works council, as well as management. Compliance with the various protective measures should of course also be monitored by superiors. Employees with a medical COVID-19 risk assessment certificate must be extremely careful as regards protective measures, should they be working in the company at all and not from home.

If an employer acts negligently and does not fulfil the requirements to protect his staff, then an employee has the right to refuse to work. In the worst case, the employee could even submit premature resignation while maintaining all salary claims etc.

Employers are therefore advised not to take the coronavirus lightly, even if they are relieved that the situation has improved. Your lawyer will be happy to provide you with legal protection!

Print Edition (summary)

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