The law is silent regarding changed employment conditions due to a pandemic. However, an employer may wish to consider the following points:
- Under the Occupational, Health and Safety Act, an employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees. Necessary measures must therefore be taken in special circumstances such as a pandemic and when the authorities make regulations to state that the country is in a lockdown, employers must comply with the same and cannot request employees to attend work unless such services are essential and the necessary authorisations are obtained from the authorities to enable the employees to attend their place of work.
- The employer has a duty to remunerate its employees and this duty continues during a pandemic. A contract of employment can only be amended by agreement of all the parties and a unilateral amendment by the employer such as a reduction in salary and/or in working hours may be considered to be a termination by the employee which may lead to a case of unjustified dismissal. It should be noted that an employer may require a an employee to work temporarily for a time shorter than that specified in his agreement at a reduced remuneration, subject to the approval of the supervising officer of the Ministry of Labour, Human Resource Development and Training.
- In the event an employer is facing financial difficulties due to a situation such as a pandemic, the employer may consider reducing its workforce either temporarily or permanently or close down his enterprise by following the steps relating to the reduction of workforce under the Workers’ Rights Act and this would include:
- Notification and negotiation with the trade union or workers’ representatives;
- In case no agreement is reached during such negotiation, notice to the Redundancy Board must be given – no reduction in workforce may be carried out before the completion of the Redundancy Board’s proceedings within 30 days or such prolonged period as may be agreed.
- During negotiation with the trade union or workers’ representatives, an employer may, for instance, discuss shorter working hours to cover temporary fluctuations in manpower needs or a request for workers to take half of their annual leaves at the employer’s request.
- It is to be noted that the Ministry of Labour, Human Resource Development and Training issued a communiqué on 7 April 2020 to inform employers and employees that in view of the prevailing situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the cases referred to the Redundancy Board for determination would be considered on resumption of office after the current lock down is lifted.