As in any other part of the world, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has become a primary concern for employers in Turkey.

We would like to provide you with this quick guide for employers, dealing with ten of the most pressing issues employers may face in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. You may use this guide to stay informed, but note that as this situation evolves, so too will the guidance and laws affecting employers. The information in this guide is presented as of March 10, 2020; the high-level guidance in this document is not intended to be comprehensive legal advice.

  1. Are employees obliged to disclose themselves as a "risk-factor" to the employer?

Yes. Employees have a duty of loyalty towards their employer. Furthermore, employees are obliged to refrain from causing any harm to the safety of other employees and to cooperate with the employer in order to ensure occupational health and safety in the workplace. Therefore, employees with a confirmed infection or suspicious symptoms must disclose these to the employer.

However, employers should clearly define when employees are a "risk-factor" and communicate this definition to their employees.

  1. Can the employer demand employees to disclose themselves as being a "risk-factor"?

Since the employer has an obligation to ensure a safe and healthy workplace and protect its employees, it is recommended that it ask employees to disclose such information.

However, employers should clearly define when employees are a "risk-factor" and communicate this definition to their employees.

  1. Can the employer issue an instruction (or a policy) requiring employees to report co-workers with flu symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, difficulty breathing, pain in the muscles, tiredness) to the employer?

No, for data privacy reasons, this would not be recommended.

However, given the extraordinary circumstances, the employer's general obligation to ensure health and safety in the workplace, and the employees' obligation to refrain from causing any damage to the safety of other employees, we believe that employees could be invited to raise any health and safety concerns they may have in the workplace.

Given the fact that such practice might also constitute an intrusion of privacy, employees should report their concerns in a discreet manner. Employees should also be reminded that everyone should take all possible measures to protect their own health and that of others.

  1. Can employees refuse to come to work?

In principle, employees are required to perform their work as agreed upon with the employer. Only in very exceptional situations, it is possible to derogate from the agreed upon work.

Indeed, if a grave and imminent danger arises in the workplace (e.g., there is a confirmed Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the workplace), employees can request that the employer discern and remedy the danger. Employees can cease working until the danger is eradicated; employers must continue to pay salaries even if work is halted.

  1. Can employees refuse to attend meetings or to travel?

If meetings or travels are located in one of the regions that are considered unsafe or if there is a grave and imminent danger in the respective region/destination, employees may refuse to attend meetings or to travel.

  1. Can the employer suspend employees from work?

Yes, an employer can in any case unilaterally release an employee from their duties. The employee's entitlement to continued remuneration remains in force during such leave of absence. While on leave, the employee is required to remain available for work.

  1. When is the employer forced to shut down its operations?

Workplace activities must be halted when a life-threatening workplace condition has been detected and until this life-threatening workplace condition is remedied. Depending on the specifics of the case, i.e. the degree of hazard to employees and life-threatening risks, workplace activities must be halted partially or fully.

  1. Does the employer have the obligation to report infections identified in the workplace to the health authorities?

No, only medical staff and doctors who become aware of an infection are required to report the infection to the health authorities. However, it is an employer's general obligation to monitor, evaluate and take action if there is any suspicion of contamination in the workplace. Therefore, if an employer believes that there is a risk of contamination, we recommend that the employer contact the health authorities or the workplace doctor immediately.

  1. Can the employer require an employee to see a doctor?

No, employers cannot force an employee to undergo a medical examination. Employers can only recommend their employees to see a doctor. If the employee refuses, the employer can send the employee on paid leave.

Depending on the employee's employment contract and work activities, working remotely could be a suitable alternative.

  1. If employees are suspended from work, refuse to come to work, or if an operation is being shut down, do the employees still need to be paid?

Yes, employees still need to be paid if they are suspended from work, refuse to come to work or if an operation is being shut down.