Uruguay’s Executive Branch has resolved that employees of companies affiliated with the Social Security Administration (BPS) who are certified to quarantine due to potential risk of COVID-19 contagion will be paid sickness benefits during the quarantine period. This decision does not cover employee groups not under the BPS system. It also does not stipulate whether employees would be covered under occupational illness insurance by the government insurer Banco de Seguros if the illness is contracted at the workplace and while working.
Additionally, the Ministry of Labor, in the framework of the National Job Safety and Health Council (CONASSAT), resolved that companies must establish preventive action protocols at the level of Bipartite Safety Commissions or of Job Prevention and Health Services, depending on the nature and specific features of each company or institution.
This decision is set in the context of employers’ obligation to safeguard health and safety in the work environment, which in practice means that companies will have to put in place the following preventive actions and good practices:
- Share with employees the Ministry of Health’s recommendations for preventing COVID-19 contagion.
- Provide personal hygiene materials (soap, hand sanitizer, etc.) and other personal protection elements.
- Step up workplace cleaning actions (air conditioning equipment, work clothes, personal protection equipment).
- Monitor people (employees and outsourcers) returning from countries declared as risks (thus far, China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Iran, Spain, Italy, France and Germany) or who have been in contact with persons coming from those countries.
- Demand compliance with mandatory quarantines.
- Identify at-risk populations (due to age or pre-existing health conditions) among personnel and in their households.
- Take steps to organize work so as to minimize potential contagion, for example, working from home (home office).
- Suspend corporate travel, mass in-company meetings, and group events.
All of these actions are adopted in the context of a health crisis and to safeguard employee health and safety, so that personnel should collaborate in their implementation and compliance. Particularly, in the case of home office actions, it is advisable to establish clear and transparent criteria for implementing them between the parties and to avoid this system’s generating relevant contingencies in the future.
The potential negative impact of the COVID-19 on companies may also give rise to the need to implement other types of extraordinary measures, which should be analyzed from the legal standpoint and in terms of practical viability before they are put in place (review of fringe benefits, mandatory vacation, unemployment insurance, suspension of services, renegotiation of working hours or monthly arrangements, among others). For these purposes it is important to take into account the reality of the company’s activity sector and its particular economic, financial and management situation.
Nota al pie: CONASSAT is a tripartite body chaired by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, and whose members include the Ministry of Health (MSP), the government insurer Banco de Seguros del Estado (BSE), the social security administration Banco de Previsión Social (BPS), and representatives of the Chambers of Industry and Commerce as well as the trade union confederation PIT-CNT.