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Work, work-related travel, income tax return

Working during the emergency situation 

What should be taken in consideration by my employer during the current situation?

It is of utmost importance that the workplaces use disinfectants.

In the offices:

  • recommended distance between persons is no less than 2m,
  • it is important to air the rooms regularly,
  • clean the surfaces regularly.

See here recommendations by the Health Board for efficient cleaning and disinfection.

Information regarding safe return to the offices from working remotely is provided by the Ministry of Social Affaires guidelines here.

People should be sent home from work, if

  • they are ill
  • might have been in contact with an infected person,
  • belong to a risk group.

Please note! Employees arriving from abroad are required to stay home for two weeks and monitor their health carefully. Exceptions are made for Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland, employees returning from these countries do not have to stay home for two weeks.

Both parties - both the employee and the employer need to agree to the changes in working conditions.

2-metres distance needs to be maintained from other people:

  • in public places (such as outdoor playgrounds and open-air sports facilities, beaches, promenades, hiking and biking trails).
  • indoor spaces (except at home).

Two people can be together in a public place. This restriction does not apply to families, and to people fulfilling official public functions.

Can I refuse to go to work?

An employee with a work contract has an obligation to work according to the agreed conditions. However, an employee returning from abroad must take into account the recommendations of the Estonian Health Board and remain at home for two weeks. This does not automatically mean that the employee is not required to work. The employee must inform the employer and agree how best to arrange work.

In addition to the above options (remote work, unpaid leave, application of the § 35 and § 37 of the Employment Act) it is possible to agree to use mandated annual leave. If an annual leave schedule has been pre-arranged, changes in annual leave times can only be made if mutually agreed. If the employee does not wish to use the employee’s mandated annual leave, another solution must be found.

What should be done if the parental benefit ended during the emergency situation but it is not possible to return to work?

When the parental benefit ends, the parent can end the parental leave and return to work. If this is not possible, the circumstances need to be differentiatied according to cause.

If the employer

  • has no work to provide, he must still allow the employee to return to work and pay her wages even if no work is provided. The employer may reduce the wages but the employee has the right to decline this. If the employer has no work to give in a situation provided by §37 of the Employment Contract Act and the employee cancels the contract, the employee has a right to a redundancy compensation. If the employer does not agree to a reduction of wages, she has the right to cancel the contract and the employer must pay compensation. More information in §35 or 37 of the Employment Contract Act

  • wishes to make the employee redundant, parents raising a child under three are in a preferential situation. People on parental leave can be made redundant only if the employer stops operating (e.g. a bankruptcy is declared).


Keep your employees informed about the situation

 

The head of a company should keep the employees informed about the changes the corona crisis has created in how everyday work is conducted. It would also be good to give an overview of how the company is faring in the context of the recession.


Allow for a home office

 

If it is possible for the employees to work from home, the employer should allow it. Internet-based applications offer solutions for how to maintain the regular work rhythm even from a distance.


Understand the parents

 

In many homes, the children are playing and studying alongside with parents who are working. The employer could offer flexibility for employees in such situations.

 

Restrictions

Can 80% vodka be used in a spray bottle for disinfecting hands?

No. In addition to alcohol there are other components that make the disinfectant effective, either slowing down the evaporation of the product from the surface or improving the surface wetting properties. This achieves the one minute contact time necessary for the antiviral effect. Ethanol alone might not kill the bacteria or the virus because it evaporates too quickly. Using ethanol as a disinfectant might reduce the activeness of the infectious agent but might also create an ethanol-resistant infection agent as a result. In sum it can be said that unregistered and non-verified disinfectants might not have actual disinfecting properties and thus might not protect their user.

Are there exceptions to this requirement that no more than two people can move together?

How is working going to be possible for people like, for instance, builders, communication cable installers and maintenance workers for mobile communication towers, pipe installers and others whose work requires engaging more than two people at a time?

The purpose of the restrictions is to protect the people’s health and they are implemented if it is possible to do it sensibly. For instance, maintenance workers for communications systems, cable and pipe installers, builders etc whose work requires the presence of more people in a public place can still apply all the necessary rules for organizing their work and safety and still do their job. There is also an exception in place for fulfilling public tasks. It should still be kept in mind that disinfectants must be used at the work place and people who have come from foreign countries need to stay home for two weeks and monitor their health. Both parties must agree to the change in work conditions.

Those working in an office environment should take into account that the recommended distance from others in an open office is no less than 2 meters, continued airing and regular cleaning are important, the sick, those who have come into contact with possibly infected people, and risk groups should be sent home if possible etc. The order of the person in charge of the emergency situation states that it is forbidden for more than two people to be and move together in a public place, unless it is not possible to feasibly guarantee this: https://www.valitsus.ee/sites/default/files/pm2045k_1.pdf.

 

 

Children and work

How to find a solution when an employer does not provide the opportunity to stay at home with the children now that the state has closed the schools?

In the developed situation, employers and employees need to take each other into consideration and find sensible solutions. If work can be done from home, it should be done from home. If not, the options of paid leave, unpaid leave or finding somebody to help with the children should be considered. At this, the children should not be sent to older people who are in the risk group.

Does the employee have the right to say that since schools and kindergartens are closed and children cannot be left unsupervised, they will not come to work for the next two weeks? What kind of salary must the employer pay the employee for this time?

This situation can be seen as the case described in § 38 of the Employment Contracts Act, in which the legislator has mandated that the employer shall pay the employee average wages for a reasonable period when the employee cannot perform work due to a reason arising from the employee, but not caused intentionally or due to severe negligence or if the employee cannot be expected to perform work for another reason not attributable to the employee. However, this situation is permitted only for a reasonable period within which the worker could be expected to arrange for the care of their children and also make their own suggestions for possible changes in the organisation of work.

According to the section 38 of the Employment Contracts Act, the employer may have to pay the employee the average wage for a maximum of the first two days, after which the parties must find a mutually satisfactory solution and conclude an agreement of the parties for the new arrangement such as teleworking, part-time work for a fixed period, annual leave or otherwise. However, under current law, an employee cannot claim an average wage from the employer for the entire period of time at home when the childcare facilities are closed. Both parties must adequately assess what is happening in the country, while also taking into account each other's interests and thereby find reasonable solutions.

How do I register a stay at home, for example, for home schooling three children?

You should try and find a solution together with your employer.

 

I must go to work, but I have nowhere to leave my children. From which age can I leave a child alone at home?

There is no specific regulation by the state as to the age a child may be left alone at home. Each case is different and depends on the maturity of the child and surrounding circumstances. It is up to the parent to decide whether to leave the child temporarily alone. In doing so, the parent must be guided by the best interests of the child, assess the maturity of the child and consider possible hazards. It is important that the wellbeing and safety of the child is guaranteed.

In general, a child's ability to act independently to a certain extent (the child is responsible for his or her behavior; knows what is or is not safe for health; can handle self hygiene) is linked to school age. Leaving kindergarten-age children and smaller children alone should be avoided, as well as being left in the care of an at-home elementary school child for longer periods.

If necessary, it is advisable to ask your relatives for help with childcare (if possible, not older people), and to turn to the local government with questions about the opening hours of kindergartens, care facilities, and other related organisations.

 

Work-related travel 

How can the employer find out their employees come from another country, and should stay home if the employees do not inform the employer?

As members of the society, we must prevent the spread of the virus and it can only be done together. We all need to keep each other safe and when we are sick, we should not go to work or to a populated place to spread the virus.

If in our community or workplace someone is ill or has come back from a trip since March 17, and believes they do not have to stay home then it is up to us to draw the attention of this person to the fact that not everybody is in perfect health or has a strong immune system, and that is why it is important to prevent the spread of the virus. Conscience is the best means of coercion.

Internal communication and good relations between people are also important in companies and organisations.

 

Can I refuse a secondment or a business trip abroad?

The employer is obligated to assess work-related risks when he sends an empolyee to a work-related trip abroad. Therefore, it is primarily the obligation of the employer to assess the risks and take the decision on whether it is possible to avoid sending the employee to a trip.

The employee has the right to refuse or suspend work that

  • endangers his or other persons' health, or
  • would not allow following environmental safety regulations,

by immediately notifying the employer or his representative and the work safety representative.

Thus, if you find that you would be endangering your life or health by going to a work-related trip abroad, you do have the right to refuse to go.

See more in §14(5) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/520032019007/consolide

 

 

 

Salary reduction according to the Employment Act 

If and when can § 37 of the Employment Act be used with reference to a reduction in salary for three months, due to economic circumstances beyond the employer’s control?

The spread of Coronavirus is one of the circumstances that allow the employer to reduce the workload and the salary of the employee for three months unilaterally according to § 37 of the Employment Act, if paying the agreed salary is an unreasonably heavy burden for the employer. It is permitted to reduce the salary to the minimum wage as determined by the Government of Estonia (584 Euros per month or 3.48 Euros per hour).

A reduction in the salary is permitted according to § 37 of the Employment Act only under the following conditions:

  • If the employer is unable to provide work to the employee as previously agreed due to economic circumstances (this doesn’t include seasonal changes in amount of work);
  • If payment of the agreed salary is an unreasonable burden on the employer. It is not permitted to reduce the salary if the employer does not have enough work for the employee to do, but still has enough liquidity to pay the salary; in this case it is interpreted that there is no real need to reduce the salary.

How will § 37 of the Employment Act be implemented in the case of salary reduction? Can the employee terminate the work contract?

In order to reduce the salary the employer must investigate if it is possible to offer different work to the employee. If there is no alternative work, or the employee does not agree to the work, the employer must inform the trustee of the employees, or in case there is no trustee the employees directly, at least fourteen days in advance. Employees must be given an opportunity to be involved in the decision. The employee must present their opinion within seven days.

If the employee does not agree to a reduced salary, the employee has the right to terminate the work contract, and this must be announced a minimum of five working days in advance. In the event of termination of the work contract, the employee will receive one month’s average salary as compensation, in addition to the contractual final pay, which consists of earned salary and unused vacation pay.

 

State support

If a person cannot work remotely because of the nature of the work (real estate management), where can they register this situation and apply for the state support of 70% of wages? Should this be done together with the employer?

It is definitely important to find the optimal solution together with your employer.

More detailed information on the support measures can be found after the relevant decisions have been made by the government and the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund.

 

Does the state compensate the 30% of wages not received because of a period of sick leave to rescue workers, police officials and ambulance workers?

Everybody is uniformly compensated 70% of wages during the period of sick leave, there have been no exceptions set.

 

 

Redundancy

In what cases is redundancy an option?

If it is clear that the situation will not improve and the employer is not able to provide work nor pay a reduced salary, redundancy is an option. Redundancy is an extraordinary termination of the work contract by the employer due to economic reasons, i.e. if following the agreed work conditions is impossible because of a reduced amount of work or the rearrangement of work. Redundancy also happens, when the employer terminates its operation or files for bankruptcy. The employer must present employees with a written termination notice and explain the reasons for termination.

The employer must follow announcement terms according to § 97 point 2 of the Employment Act. The terms are related to the length of the work contract. The employer must announce redundancy at the following times when the employment has been working for the employer:

  • less than one year – minimum 15 calendar days;
  • one to five years – minimum 30 calendar days;
  • five to ten years – minimum 60 calendar days;
  • ten and more years – minimum 90 calendar days.

The employer must consider that if the termination is announced with disregard of these terms, the employer must pay compensation. In that case the employer will have to pay the average salary for the work days that are within the announcement term that was disregarded. If the work contract ends due to redundancy the employer must pay a redundancy compensation of one month’s average salary in addition to final salary.

Income tax return

How can I submit my personal income tax return if I cannot do it electronically?

The deadline for submission of the personal income tax returns of natural persons was April 30, but paper copy tax returns will be accepted by the Tax and Customs Board also after the deadline, at least until the end of June. The Tax and Customs Board client offices across Estonia are closed and tax returns can be submitted electronically. If you belong to a risk group and you do not have the opportunity submit an electronic tax return at home, do not go to your relatives or friends or invite them to visit you to help with the tax returns. If necessary, the Tax and Customs Board will accept the tax returns at least until the end of June and will not impose any sanctions for exceeding the deadline.

 

Last updated: 28 April 2020