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Coronavirus pandemic - what about mobile employees?

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread and talks of a pandemic increase, we have highlighted some legal consequences to consider for organizations with mobile employees and cross-border activities.

Many companies today will have employees travelling for work at any given time. However, what happens when companies are faced with a global pandemic and employees are forced to work from a different location than usual, or to stay in another location longer than intended?

Home office

Mobile employees could be forced to work from home office due to travel
ban or quarantine situation set by authorities or employer. Depending on the
legislation in the home country, working from home in another country than the
employer’s place of business could imply

  • tax liabilities for the employer in the employee’s home country (permanent establishment (PE).
  • employer reporting obligations for salary payments in the employee’s Home country
  • income tax implications for the employee.  
  • implications on the social security coverage of the employee.
  • Posted Workers Directive requirements.

A precautionary measure is to consider how long your organization is
willing to accept that the employee works from home, taking into consideration legislation and regulations of the above.  Alternatively, the employer should consider whether it is preferable that the individual does not work during this period.

This will raise the question whether the company is obliged to continue to pay the employee’s salary during this period, or whether the employee is entitled to sickness benefits.

The employer will receive sickness benefit for employees covered under Norwegian Social Security Scheme after 16 days of absence, if an employee is absent due to illness or injury and has a medical certificate confirming the absence. 

If an employee has been infected by the virus, this condition is met. However, if the employee is not infected by the virus but must be in home quarantine, the Norwegian regulation allows sick benefits to be granted only if the local authorities have imposed a work ban due to the risk of infection.

Employers have a legal obligation to accommodate that the work can be managed from home. If the employee can reasonably have home office, there is no basis for sick pay and employer shall continue to pay ordinary remuneration.

Assignment of employees to affected areas

It may be necessary for companies to send employees to an affected country for an important matter.

If an employee refuses to travel, the question is whether the employer can order the employee to travel anyway by the employer’s managerial prerogative. This decision should be subject to a concrete assessment and the well-being of the employee needs to be evaluated against the business need for the employer

Evacuation of employees

Where employees are stranded in an affected area, the employer may consider evacuating employees and bringing them back home either upon request from the employee or due to business need and evaluation.

The assignment contract and assignment policy will normally open for an early end of the assignment and repatriation. The employer can in most cases repatriate due to business needs, and the coronavirus pandemic may be seen to constitute a valid business need for repatriation.

If the employee is subject to home quarantine upon repatriation to Norway, the employer may be entitled to refund of sick pay for the quarantine period. 

Combating COVID-19 with resilience

Public authorities are taking decisive action to respond to the emerging health threat, leading the business community to reconsider the adequacy of their preparedness measures.

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