Benyam Tafesse

Benyam Tafesse

 

COVID-19 update

 
 
 
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Legal update: Protocol on workplace response to coronavirus COVID-19 (Ethiopia)
01 April 2020
On 27 March 2020, Ethiopia adopted a tripartite protocol that outlines workplace response to coronavirus COVID-19. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA), the Ethiopian Employers’ Confederation and Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions jointly issued the protocol which aims at prevention of coronavirus COVID-19 in the workplace and mitigating the socio economic impacts of the pandemic on workers, employers and the overall economy of the country.

The following is a brief summary of the protocol.
Preventive and protective measures
The protocol emphasises the importance of prevention as the most important tool in the fight against coronavirus COVID-19 and lists precautionary measures specific to the pandemic that have to be taken by employers, employees, and safety officers. The preventive measures to be taken by employers are, for the most part, incorporated in our Legal Guidance for Employers, which can be accessed our website and the DLA Piper Coronavirus Resource Centre. The protocol requires employers to take the following additional preventive and protective measures:
Providing employees with protective materials such as face masks and gloves and training them on how to use them;
Setting up a committee dedicated to the prevention of coronavirus COVID-19 in the workplace led by the manager of the business and made up of trade union and/or employee representatives;
Creating a work space that allows employees to practice social distancing while working;
Avoiding a congested environment inside employee transportation services and ensuring windows are open during travel;
Creating awareness around coronavirus COVID-19 and its prevention among employees using different channels in different languages;
Allocating longer meal breaks to avoid crowds in cafeterias and canteens;
Avoiding gatherings, meetings as well as work situations exposing employees to contracting the disease;
Avoiding meetings and encouraging communication via internet or telephone;
Preparing a space where employees displaying coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms can stay until they are transferred to health centers; and
Preparing regular reports on coronavirus COVID-19 in collaboration with labor unions and/or employee representatives.
Under the labor proclamation, employers have the overall responsibility of taking the necessary measures to adequately safeguard the health and safety of employees. It follows from this general obligation that employers must comply with the above listed specific precautionary measures.
Recommended measures to sustain employment and business continuity
So as to ease the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on employment, the protocol outlines recommended measures that may be adopted for the purpose of protecting workers as well as safeguarding business continuity. While emphasizing the key role of consultation between workers and employers in planning and implementing these measures, the protocol recommends the following measures to be considered step by step with due regard to the severity of the situation:
Employees to take paid annual leave and in the case of employees who do not have unused annual leave, employers to allow them to take at least half of next year’s leave;
Ongoing negotiations towards new collective agreements to be suspended for the next 12 months;
Unimplemented salary raise plans to be suspended for the next 12 months;
Benefits and allowances which used to be provided to employees (such as hardship allowance, transportation allowance, house allowance, commission, bonus and other benefits which are not considered as salary) not to be paid until the crisis finishes;
Based on consultations of employers’ and workers’ unions, revising existing salary scales in a bid to maintain business continuity;
For employees assigned to non-essential positions who temporarily lose their jobs, provision of loans and written assurance that they will be reinstated once the situation stabilizes;
Trade unions and employer associations to mobilize their members to discharge corporate social responsibility during these critical times.
While the above recommended measures might not be legally binding, they certainly provide useful guidance on what should be done in terms of responding to the crisis. It is also important to note that the protocol, a result of a tripartite consultation, calls on all stakeholders but mainly workers and employers to commit to the implementation of these necessary policy measures.

Should you have any questions on the new protocol, please get in touch with us.

Kind regards,
Susheela Rivers Benyam Tafesse Dubero
Head of Employment and Immigration
+251 115 15 97 98
Mehrteab Leul & Associates (DLA Piper Africa, Ethiopia)
 
   
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This publication is intended as a general guidance and discussion of the issues addressed, and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. It is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. Mehrteab Leul & Associates Law office will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this publication.

Mehrteab Leul & Associates is a member of DLA Piper Africa, a Swiss Verein whose members are comprised of independent law firms in Africa working with DLA Piper.

DLA Piper is a global law firm operating through various separate and distinct legal entities. Further information on DLA Piper Africa can be found at www.dlapiper.com/africa.

This publication is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with, and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. It is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. Mehrteab Leul & Associates will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this publication. This may qualify as “Lawyer Advertising” requiring notice in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
Copyright © 2020 DLA Piper. All rights reserved.  |  APR20  |  A05197

 

 
 
 
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Coronavirus COVID-19: Legal guidance for employers in Ethiopia
With 334,000 plus confirmed cases and over 14,600 deaths across 189 countries and territories, the coronavirus COVID-19 is causing havoc throughout the world. As the virus continues to rapidly spread across different jurisdictions including Ethiopia, it is causing many businesses and employers to look at what measures they could legally take to mitigate risks in the workplace, and protect health and safety of their employees. It is also indisputable that there is much anxiety about coronavirus COVID-19 and its impact regarding employment in the event that a countrywide lockdown becomes mandatory.

To help our clients navigate through this unprecedented time, we have prepared some general guidance on the impact of coronavirus COVID-19 on the employment relationship under Ethiopian law.
Preventive measures
Health and safety
The Ethiopian Labor Proclamation obliges employers to take the necessary measures to adequately safeguard the health and safety of employees at all times. This broad responsibility means that employers have the duty to strictly follow precautionary measures at work place upon the occurrence of pandemics and transmitting diseases. Though there is no official separate directive or guideline issued by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs on specific measures to be taken by employers in relation to coronavirus COVID-19, employers are recommended to take the following actions:
Make employees aware of safety and prevention measures in accordance with public briefings, press releases and guidelines by WHO, the F.D.R.E. Ministry of Health and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI);
Availing access to information to the employees. This can be done by regularly updating information on scientific developments and professional advises on notice
Providing water, soap, paper towels, sanitizers and trash cans to dispose of used materials in work places to allow employees to practice good hygiene at all times (it is commendable if support can also be extended to those who cannot afford soaps and sanitizing materials at home);
Organizing office spaces in a way the air can easily circulate;
Regularly assessing the health of employees and remind staff to self-isolate in cases where symptoms are observed;
Creating a working office which allows employees to distance themselves from each other and avoid suffocation. The employer should recommend that employees practice social distancing and discouraging physical greetings such as shaking hands;
Avoiding gatherings, meetings as well as work situations exposing employees to contracting the disease;
Regularly cleaning tables, doors, surfaces, elevators and shared equipment at the work place;
Amending domestic and international travel policies;
Providing options to work from home where applicable; and
Providing information and safety measures to visitors and clients at offices
It is important to note that the Labor Proclamation excludes endemic or epidemic diseases (except in the case of employees who are exclusively engaged in fighting such illnesses) from the definition of occupational diseases. As a result, employers are generally obviated from liabilities that arise from employees contracting occupational diseases. Nevertheless, employers are obliged to take precautionary measures at all times including during epidemics.
Quarantine
Quarantine is not specifically recognized by the law. However, given the characteristics of coronavirus COVID-19, there may be different types of quarantine scenarios and each comes with slightly different legal implications. We have provided below the recommend measures on how an employer should handle different types of quarantine scenarios in light of Ethiopian labor laws:

Government-mandated quarantine due to a positive coronavirus
COVID-19 diagnosis

Where an employee has been diagnosed with the virus and the government or health agency requires quarantine, the employee may be treated as being on sick leave to the extent applicable and provided that the employee has available sick leave. The sick leave to be granted could be fully-paid, partially paid or unpaid depending on circumstances.

Government/Health agency-recommended quarantine
Quarantine may be recommended if the employee is showing signs of illness but has not been diagnosed with coronavirus COVID-19. In such circumstances, if the employee is sick and unable to work (for whatever reason), he or she may be entitled to sick leave (paid or unpaid) in accordance with the requirements of the Labor Proclamation. If, however, the employee is feeling well and provided that he/she is able to work from home during the quarantine, the employer may allow him/her to work remotely during such period of recommended or mandated quarantine.

Employer-mandated quarantine
Where the employer asks employees to stay away from work, for reasons related to coronavirus COVID-19, the employee may be entitled to sick leave depending on the individual circumstances of the employee and the requirements of the Ethiopian labor laws.

Employee self-isolation
If the employee is hesitant to come to work because of a fear of contracting the virus, employers are generally encouraged to investigate the reason for the absence and whether there are special circumstances that need to be taken into account, e.g., if the employee is particularly vulnerable or is living with a vulnerable person. Where the reason is legitimate, and the nature of the work allows the employee to work from home, the employer may allow the employee to continue to work from home to the extent possible.

In connection with sick leave, it is important for employers to understand the difficulty that may be encountered by quarantined employees to acquire evidence of ill-health and as such, employers may consider if they have to temporarily adjust their policies in this regard. Additionally, employers are strongly encouraged to seek legal advice to determine to what extent, in what circumstances statutory sick leave may be applicable and to discuss other available avenues in the event sick leave is not applicable.
Working from home
Although it does not provide details, the Labor Proclamation indicates that an employee may work from home when agreement to that effect has been made with an employer. It has been publicly reported that many businesses in various jurisdictions are currently permitting certain groups or even entire staff to work from home on a trial basis to flesh out and address any issues in advance in the event that more widescale home working becomes mandatory. At this stage, employers in Ethiopia are encouraged to review their work from home policies (if any) to make sure these are up-to-date and fit for purpose and that employees who work from home have the requisite technical and material support.
Relevant legal avenues
The Ethiopian Labor Proclamation provides for various measures that could be considered by the employer during challenging circumstances such as the coronavirus COVID-19.
Suspension
Temporary suspension of rights and obligations arising from a contract of employment may be considered in the following cases.
Leave without pay
Suspension of contract of employment can be applied in cases where leave without pay is requested by the employee and granted by the employer. In such cases, the employer’s obligation to pay wages and benefits and the employee’s obligation to perform work will be interrupted for the period fixed by the parties.
Suspension due to force majeure or financial difficulties
The Labor Proclamation provides that the occurrence of a force majeure circumstance which results in the full or partial interruption of the employer’s work for not less than 10 consecutive days justifies temporary suspension of employment contracts. Similarly, financial problems not attributed to the fault of the employer that lead to the interruption of activities of the employer for no less than 10 consecutive days constitutes a valid ground for temporary suspension.

Before suspending employment contracts on the basis of occurrence of one of the above mentioned grounds, the employer is legally required to submit a request for approval to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA) or the appropriate labor authority stating the grounds for suspension. The Ministry or the appropriate authority has to determine the existence of a good cause for suspension and announce its decision within three days. If the employer has not received a response from the relevant authority within this period, this will be considered as affirmation of the request and the employer can suspend the employee(s).

When the Ministry or authority approves the request for suspension, it will fix the period of suspension which will not exceed 90 days. On the other hand, the Ministry or the appropriate authority may order the resumption of work and payment for the days on which workers were suspended if it finds that there is no good cause for suspension. In such a case, the employer has a right to appeal to the appropriate labor court within five working days after the final decision has been passed.
Termination
Ethiopian labor law recognizes grounds attributable to organizational or operational requirements of an undertaking as valid causes for terminating an employee after giving notice. One of the grounds that justify termination with notice is fall in demand for the products or services of the employer resulting in the reduction of the volume of work or its profit. In such cases, the employer may terminate employees after giving the applicable advance notice and effecting payment of statutory termination benefits.

However, if the termination affects workers representing at least 10% of the number of workers employed or termination of at least five employees over a continuous period of not less than ten days, in cases where the number of workers in an undertaking is between 20 and 50, the termination may be considered as a “reduction of workers” and will be subject to further regulations and procedures stipulated by the law. In the event of a reduction of workers, the employer should observe the mandatory rules on consultation with trade unions and workers representatives and rules relating to prioritization of employees to be terminated.
For help and support in relation to coronavirus COVID-19, please reach out to your regular contact or alternatively use the contacts in our Coronavirus Resource Center.
 
   
DLA Piper
www.dlapiper.com/africa
DLA Piper Africa Offices DLA Piper Africa People
 
To unsubscribe please click This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This publication is intended as a general guidance and discussion of the issues addressed, and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. It is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. Mehrteab Leul & Associates Law office will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this publication.

Mehrteab Leul & Associates is a member of DLA Piper Africa, a Swiss Verein whose members are comprised of independent law firms in Africa working with DLA Piper.

DLA Piper is a global law firm operating through various separate and distinct legal entities. Further information on DLA Piper Africa can be found at www.dlapiper.com/africa.

This publication is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with, and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. It is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. Mehrteab Leul & Associates will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this publication. This may qualify as “Lawyer Advertising” requiring notice in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
Copyright © 2020 DLA Piper. All rights reserved.  |  MAR20  |  A05197