Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
In Norway, the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection is currently 1,775, and is increasing every day. The COVID-19 virus has a direct impact on the workplace. The following provides a short overview of Norwegian employers’ obligations to their employees and rights to manage their business during the COVID-19 outbreak.
General health and safety requirements
According to the Norwegian Working Environment Act, employers are obliged to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for all their employees.
With regard to the COVID-19 virus, the employer should implement internal policies on preventative measures in accordance with the recommendations of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).
Furthermore, employers should pay close attention to the NIPH’s updates on the development of the virus, perform risk analysis and, if required, update internal policies based on new information.
Can employers send or order employees to stay home?
If there is a risk that an employee has caught the COVID 19-virus, the employer can and should order the employee to stay at home for a period of 14 calendar days. This is in accordance with the recommendations of the public authorities and regarded as a necessary measure to protect the workplace, other employees, and the public in general. Even if employees are in good health, they can be ordered to work from home during the 14-day quarantine period.
Do employees have a right to stay at home due to COVID-19 fear?
As a general – and undisputed – rule, the employee cannot demand to stay at home without the employer's consent, and is required to be present in the workplace. This presupposes that the employer complies with the mandatory requirements for a safe and healthy work environment for its employees. Further, if the employee has symptoms of the virus or has been exposed, the employer will most likely be obliged to send the employee home, as discussed above. Given the current situation, employers are encouraged to be flexible and allow employees to work from home when feasible.
Are employees who are ordered to stay home entitled to salary?
Yes, even if it is not possible to work from home, the employees are still entitled to their salary. In the event that the employee has taken ill, the employee must contact a doctor and will be on ordinary sick leave. In Norway, this means that the employer must cover sick pay for the first 16 calendar days after which the employee will be entitled to sick pay through the National Insurance Scheme.
The National Insurance authorities have also implemented new guidelines stating that doctors may issue medical certificates if the doctor suspects COVID-19 infection and deems quarantine necessary.
Can employers make use of temporary redundancies?
This will depend on whether or not the virus results in temporary workforce reductions. If, for instance, the virus leads to a temporary work stoppage as a result of delayed or cancelled supply of goods, the rules on temporary redundancies (layoffs) will typically apply. Fear of infection or necessary use of quarantine does not in itself give grounds for temporary redundancies, i.e., temporary redundancies may not be used as a preventative measure.
Can employers introduce a travel ban?
As a preventative measure, the employer can restrict and cancel business trips, both to areas with known outbreaks and in general. In our view, the employer cannot prohibit employees from taking private trips. The employer can, however, instruct the employees to inform the employer about planned trips to COVID-19-affected countries. In any event, the employer should urge the employees to follow the travel recommendations from the NIPH and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Whether employees are entitled to their salary during the subsequent quarantine period if they, despite public recommendations, travel to a country with presumed ongoing transmission, depends on an individual assessment.
Can employers require their employees to undergo medical examinations?
According to the Working Environment Act, the employer may only require medical examinations of its employees when specifically provided by statute, in connection with posts involving particularly high risks, or when the employer finds it necessary in order to protect life or health. Whether the employer can require testing of the employee is subject to a specific assessment of the situation, which would include the risks connected to the workplace. The current outbreaks of COVID-19 will not in itself provide grounds for testing. On the other hand, if an employee has travelled to a risk area or has symptoms of the virus, and works with individuals in a risk group, such testing may be required.
Please note that the purpose of this Insight newsletter is to give employers a general overview on relevant topics related to the COVID-19 virus. It does not substitute a professional legal opinion in concrete matters. Because the COVID-19 situation is dynamic, with new governmental measures each day, employers should consult with counsel for the latest developments and updated guidance on this topic.