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COVID-19 Emergency Situation in Estonia

The Estonian government has declared an emergency situation until May 1, 2020. The changes in the normal routine affect, among other things, schools, cultural activities, and cruises. No public events are allowed. The changes do not affect shopping malls at this moment but situation may change.

  • Estonian Government also decided on temporary reintroduction of border control at the Schengen internal border and surveillance at the national borders.
  • Starting from 17th March 2020, everyone who comes to Estonia from a foreign country have a restriction on movement and are obliged to stay in a residence stated in the respective declaration.
  • Exceptions from restrictions on movement after entering to Estonia are for: 
    • Diplomatic employees and their family members; 
    • People directly related to the delivery of goods and raw materials; 
    • People related to international transportation of goods and passengers or directly providing services related to the transportation of passengers; 
    • Medical employees; People who have to cross the border to arrive to their home country; 
    • People with special permit to enter to Estonia based on special permit from Police and Border Guard.

Arrangements related to emergency situation in Estonia are updated on Republic of Estonia Government webpage: 
https://www.valitsus.ee/en/emergency-situation-estonia

Information about COVID-19 disease is available on Health Board homepage: https://www.terviseamet.ee/en/covid19


Working conditions

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers and employees are required to work together for a safe working environment. Appropriate measures should be taken by the employer to ensure the safety of the working environment and to prevent workers becoming ill, including providing workers with the necessary hygiene products and disinfectants and reminding workers of basic hygiene procedures. It is also important to ensure that frequently used rooms, objects and surfaces are cleaned and large meetings and business trips that can be avoided should be avoided.

Due to obligation of the employer to establish and maintain safe working environment, the employer has the right to request for employee with illness symptoms to stay home. The employer should ask other employees to monitor their health and to stay home when symptoms of the virus develop.


WAGES, VACATION AND CERTIFICATE OF INCAPACITY

14 days restriction on movement after entering to Estonia

Starting from 17th March 2020, everyone who comes to Estonia from a foreign country have a restriction on movement and are obliged to stay in a residence stated in the respective declaration (excluding exceptions listed above).

Estonian Health Insurance Act enables to pay benefit for temporary incapacity for work also in case of a quarantine, but maximum period for such compensation is 7 days. For remaining of time, parties may agree on remote working (working from home). If working at home is not possible due to the nature of the work or if the employee does not agree to work at home, the parties may agree that employee will take paid or unpaid leave.

Estonian Employment Contracts Act section 38 also regulates employer obligation to pay an 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.

Applying of different compensation regulations in case of mandatory restriction of movement are not yet clear in practice.


Certificate of incapacity (sickness benefit)

An insured person has the right either for the sickness benefit due to his/her own sickness or the carer’s allowance.

In case of sickness benefit, the rate of compensation is calculated based on 70% of the employee’s average salary. First 3 days are without compensation, the employer is obliged to pay the compensation for 4th to 8th day and Health Insurance Fund pays to the insured person sickness benefit starting from 9th day of sickness. The certificate of incapacity may also be issued to an employee if the employee has been in direct contact with a person infected with COVID-19.

The insured person is allowed for carer’s allowance in case he/she is nursing a child under 12 years or a family member who is ill at home. Compensation is calculated based on 80% of the employee’s average salary starting from first day of leave.
 

Salary reduction

Employer can apply maximum 3 months salary reduction over a period of 12 months unilaterally if the following criteria are met:

  • unforeseen economic circumstances beyond its control;
  • employer fails to prove with work to the agreed extent.

Before reducing wages an employer shall offer the employee other work, if possible and inform and consult with the Employee’s trustee.

The notice of the reduction of wages has to be given no less than 14 calendar days in advance.

If the employer reduces the wages the employee has a right to:

  • refuse to perform work in proportion to reduction of the wages.
  • cancel the employment contract and the employer has to pay compensation of one month average wages. Employee will be entitled also for compensations under Unemployment Insurance Act.

Employer cannot send the employee to unpaid leave without employee’s consent.

Parties should try mutually find a solution to either use annual vacation or unpaid vacation during the critical period, but agreement with employee is required for such cases.


Remote work

According to Employment Contracts Act, teleworking is an agreement of the parties, therefore it cannot be mandatorily forced by either parties if not previously agreed.

To organise teleworking smoothly, employer shall establish internal rules for the teleworking, describing inter alia technical solutions for teleworking and reporting of working data if necessary for the better arrangement of work.


Termination of the employment contract by economic reason (lay-off)

Employer has a right to cancel the employment contract by economic reason and in this case the terms for advance notice are following:

  • for employees who are working less than one year, advance notice should be no less than 15 calendar days;
  • for employees with one to five years of employment, advance notice should be no less than 30 calendar days;
  • for employees with five to ten years of employment – no less than 60 calendar days and
  • for employees with ten and more years of employment – no less than 90 calendar days.

Please note, that upon cancellation of an employment contract due to lay-off, an employer shall pay an employee compensation to the extent of one month’s average wages.

However, upon cancellation of contract entered into for a specified term for economic reasons, except the employer bankruptcy, an employer shall pay an employee compensation to the extent that corresponds to the wages that the employee would have been entitled to until the expiry of the contract term. No compensation shall be paid if the employment contract is cancelled due to force majeure.

In case of cancellation by economic reason the employer is obliged to offer the employee other work, if possible and inform and consult with the Employee’s trustee.


State support due to the emergency situation

It is currently unclear whether any state support for workers or employers will be introduced due to the emergency situation. There is also no separate regulation or previous practice in this regard. Government members have generally acknowledged the possibility that the state will support entrepreneurs for damage caused by an emergency either via loans, state aid, tax subsidies or other supporting measures.

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