State of emergency and remote work of employees

On 16 March 2020, the Government of the Republic of Serbia has adopted a special Decree on the organization of work of employers during the state of emergency (the “Decree”) which prescribes special manner and organisation of work of all employers in Serbia during the state of emergency.

The Decree stipulates that during the state of emergency, the employers are obliged to enable employees to perform work outside the premises of the employer (remote working and work from home), for all roles, where such work can be organized in accordance with the general act and the employment contract. If the general act and the employment contract do not provide for this type of work, the employer may, by decision, allow the employee to perform work outside the employer’s premises, if the organizational conditions allow it, without the need for an annex to the employment contract or general acts.

If working remotely is not possible to organize due to the nature of the work, the employer must undertake the measures in order to reduce the risk of spreading of the coronavirus by: organizing work in shifts (if objectively possible and if such work does not generate additional cost) in order to decrease a number of people who perform work in the same premise at the same time, holding meetings electronically, or in some other appropriate way, and postponing local and overseas business trips.

In order to secure health protection for the employees and engaged work force, the employer is obliged to secure general, particular and extraordinary measures that relate to hygiene of the facility and individuals and for the employees and engaged work force who are in direct contact with the customers, or who share the work space with a number of people, it is necessary to provide sufficient amount of the protection kits (protection masks, gloves and disinfection kits).

Further below are answers to few questions that businesses face nowadays, as follows:

1) Is the employer obliged to pay compensation to employees in case of a temporary termination of work in the company?

  • According to the Employment Law, during temporary termination or decrease of scope of work without an employee’s fault, which lasts no longer than 45 days within a calendar year, the employee is entitled to a salary remuneration in the amount of at least 60% of the average salary in the last 12 months, but not less than a minimal salary prescribed by law.
  • Exceptionally, in case of temporary termination of work or decrease of scope of work which requires longer absence, the employer can, with the previous consent of the competent ministry, send the employee to the absence longer than 45 days, with the prescribed salary remuneration.

2) Does the employer have an option of ordering employees to use unpaid leave during the state of emergency that is in force for the purpose of preventing the spread of virus infection COVID-19?

  • The employer cannot, during the stop of work which occurred without the fault of employees, issue an order to such employees to use unpaid leave.
  • The Labour Law stipulates that an employee is entitled to a salary compensation in the amount stipulated by the general act and the employment contract during the termination of work.
  • The Labour Law does not provide for a guaranteed minimum amount of this compensation, but the employer has the right to determine it himself.

3) Can the employer make the decision to work from home during the state of emergency?

  • During the state of emergency the employer is obliged to issue a specific decision that shall prescribe that work shall be performed from home at work positions which enable such work organization, according to the general act and employment agreement, as long as the new circumstances persist. The employer is obliged to provide monitoring of such work of the employee, as well as to provide the employee with all the means, related equipment for work from home, respectively to bear the costs for organization of such work.

4) How to treat the absence of an employee who has been ordered an isolation while returning from a business trip or a private trip?

  • In the abovementioned case, when an employee is isolated on grounds of suspicion of being infected by COVID-19, such absence shall be deemed as an absence due to temporary inability to work, during which an employee is entitled to compensation in accordance with law. The employee shall submit the decision of the competent body, by which the isolation has been determined, upon expiration of the isolation period.