The Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. As the outbreak continues to spread in Europe, many companies are now considering taking preventive measures.
The French Ministry of Employment just announced on 28 February 2020, a situation of "force majeure" for companies (that can decide in certain cases to implement a temporary closure of the workplace) and has published an FAQ for employees and employers.
French employers have a general obligation to ensure employees' health and safety. The employer should take measures to prevent professional risks and should also provide sufficient training and information to employees in order to ensure their health.
- Verify where the French workforce is currently working from or planning to travel to and implement all necessary preventive measures depending on the extent of the outbreak in the place of work/travel (information, guidelines for travel, etc.). Given the employer's obligation to take all necessary preventive measures, it is strongly recommended to offer employees who may find themselves in infected areas the right to immediately return to France.
- Invite employees to follow the instructions of the French authorities. In particular, persons who believe they have been or are exposed should call the emergency services (phone number 15) and not actually go to a doctor/labor doctor/hospital.
- Remind employees of the general health and safety precautions recommended for all infectious diseases (regularly wash hands, wear a mask in case of illness). The posting in the workplace of such recommendations is highly advisable. Ask employees to voluntarily declare if they were present during the past 14 days in one of the infected zones and as the case may be it is possible to ask employees to remain at home in quarantine. In case of a suspicion of an exposure in the workplace, the employer should contact the labor doctor and emergency services to obtain advice on how to deal with the situation.
- Medical checks are extremely restricted in an employment context, even in times of medical crisis. The employer cannot require its employees to undergo medical checks and should only collect strictly necessary collect medical information in order to avoid a data privacy breach.
- Existing Internal Regulations and the mandatory risk assessment document ("Document Unique d’Evaluation des Risques (DUER") should be reviewed and updated if need be.
In addition to these general health related recommendations, employers should of course try to maintain its normal business activities in a workplace in so far as possible.
- Know where your workforce is and provide employees with appropriate instructions/guidelines.
- Be aware that employees have a right to retreat from a situation that they perceive to be dangerous ("droit de retrait") if the employer has not implemented all prevention and preventive measures.
- Consider postponing group meetings in particular those with international teams.
- Be prepared to allow work from home. Work from home is generally voluntary; however, the French Labor Code provides that "In the event of exceptional circumstances, in particular the threat of an epidemic, […]" work from home is possible when "necessary to allow the continuity of the company's activity and to guarantee the protection of employees". A work from home policy is recommended.
- Although this is not mandatory, it is recommended to have a "continuity plan" ("plan de continuité d’activité") in particular to ensure that all IT tools allow employees to continue to work notably in the event of an epidemic and that employees continue to be properly managed.
- Consider the need to modify working times in particular in case of an increase of activity.
- Contact payroll and benefit providers to verify employees' rights/payments and absence justifications required in case of an absence due to the outbreak. A recent decree dated 31 January 2020, sets out the conditions for the payment of sickness benefits for persons exposed to the coronavirus and who have been quarantined and persons required to stay at home. The decree simplifies the conditions of entitlement to daily allowances for a period of 20 days.
- Generally speaking, such emergency plans/actions should be implemented after information/consultation of employee representatives when possible and ideally the Labor doctor it being understood that given the emergency situation this may not always be feasibly possible.
As for many employment-related topics, internal communications to employees on this matter should be issued in French.