For months, people all over the world have been struggling with the effects of the novel corona virus. But not only in the health care systems much had to change, the pandemic has also raised many questions in and around the workplace.

What obligations must employers now fulfill and what can be demanded of the state and authorities?

Not only to avoid a plant closure is the obligation to take protective measures necessary, no, it’s also based on legal foundations. (§ 618 para. 1 BGB, § 3 ArbSchG) This initially includes a comprehensive clarification about possible risks of infection and correct hygienic behavior, but also implies the independent provision of information about the latest developments and the passing on of said to employees; the cancellation or postponement of business trips; and the request to employees to report critical health conditions so that protective measures can be taken if necessary.

In order to be able to continue to guarantee occupational health and safety standards, the Federal Ministry of Labor has issued uniform rules to serve as a guide. The following hygiene measures must be ensured from now on:

  • Animation for regular, thorough hand washing;
  • observance of the minimum distance of 1.5 meters;
  • prohibition of physical contact;
  • recommendation to wear mouth and nose protection;

Instructions on sick leave or not to enter the plant if symptoms occur.
Employers are also obliged to create conditions for the implementation of the hygiene rules. This includes:

  • Possible redesign of the workplace to ensure distance;
  • Clear marking of protective distances;
  • Provision of disinfectant;
  • Specification of schedules for staggered working hours or breaks;
  • Possible provision of personal operating resources.

Prevention of infection, i.e. compliance with the above measures, is considered mandatory and may be required of the employer. Otherwise the employee may refuse to appear at work (§ 273 Abs.1 BGB).
Especially older people and those with previous illnesses are considered to be particularly at risk of becoming infected with the virus. Accordingly, explicit consideration should be shown to employees who belong to risk groups. This can be done in the form of special protective measures, but also by offering to work from home if possible.

According to the Hessian Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration, pregnant women should no longer carry out activities involving direct passenger service and field work, even if they do not officially belong to a risk group, since it may not be possible to administer all available medication to pregnant women who are infected.

A plant closure cannot be ruled out due to Corona, but because of the obligation to continue to pay wages, it is a heavy burden for the employer. The simplest solution to circumvent a shutdown is the order to work from home, provided that this option has been agreed in the employment contract. The prerequisite for this, however, is the provision of necessary working materials by the employer and sufficient living space, so that there is no lack of space on the part of the employee.

What is not possible is the one-sided arrangement of vacation days. This must be done in consultation and with the agreement of both parties. The same applies in principle also to company vacations, which must be announced with advance notice and must be co-ordinated in advance with the work council. If this has been done, company vacations are possible, but a substantial part of the vacation days must still be available to the employee. Personal agreements with employees or compensation for overtime are still possible in principle.

Short-time work has developed into a widespread option for action. For this, only an agreement in the employment contract is required.
Compensation for lost working hours through company insurance is rather rare. For this purpose, a company insurance covering the danger of infection would be necessary. In practice, this will most likely be the exception.

The state, on the other hand, has initiated several rescue packages, which, for example, facilitate the introduction of short-time work and result in loosening insolvency laws.