We have been asked by a large number of companies and business owners in Egypt about the precautionary measures that can be taken inside their workplaces to contain the COVID-19 outbreak while ensuring the continuity of the work inside the company.
Occupational Safety and Health Measures (OSH)
The Egyptian Labor Law No. 12 of 2003 (“Egyptian Labor Law”) stipulates in Book Five for the precautions and measures that must be taken by employers to maintain the occupational safety and health (OSH) of the workplace and prevent all types of hazards, including the spread of bacteria and viruses.
OSH measures require employers to:
- Conduct an assessment of potential industrial and natural hazards and disasters, as well as prepare an emergency plan to protect the workplace and staff from such events.
- Make the employees aware of the possible dangers and hazards and provide them with the necessary means of protection.
- Perform periodic medical examinations for all employees to ensure their safety and discover any diseases that may affect them.
Such OSH measures are – in fact – required to be taken during all times, however, exceptional attention shall be paid to these measures at the time of having an epidemic or a disease like COVID-19.
Employers’ Authorities and Duties
Employers in Egypt are granted a wide discretion in taking all measures necessary to organize or re-organize the work as long as these measures are not tainted with prejudice or abuse.
Employers have the authority to deviate from the agreed terms and conditions of the employment contracts or to assign employees with different work duties (outside their original job description) if there is a ‘necessity’ or “force majeure” that calls for such change.
’Necessity’ - in this context – means urgent circumstances which occur inside the workplace with an exceptional nature and which justify the adoption of exceptional measures. “Force majeure” is the unpredictable event which cannot be prevented, such as wars, natural disasters, and spread of epidemics and diseases.
The authority of the employer to re-organize the work during the current COVID-19 outbreak will include the following:
Obliging employees to consume their accrued annual leaves during this period of the virus spread. The employer has the authority – under the law – to set the dates of employees’ annual leaves, and employees are required to take the leave on the date and for the period specified by the employer
Rotating the weekly rest-day (week-end) among the employees. Instead of all employees take the rest-day on the same day (usually Friday and/or Saturday in Egypt), business owners can set a schedule to determine the weekly rest-day of each group of employees
Employers also have a duty to apply all possible preventive measures to reduce the intensive gathering of employees or their presence for long hours inside the workplace. Such measures can include, for example, activating the shift work system with reduced hours per each shift (especially companies having factories with intensive manpower)
Prohibiting working extra hours or working during rest-days or holidays
Canceling the daily rest hour which the employee gets during the day for lunch and rest
Adopting remote work policies as long as the nature of the work so permits
Holding work meetings and discussions remotely through modern means of communication
- Reducing business trips and canceling corporate-sponsored activities and gatherings
Salaries during the Lock-down
A question arises as to the right of the employees to receive their salaries in events of business temporary lock-down due to COVID-19 outbreak.
The Egyptian Labor Law stipulated that in case the employee was unable to undertake his/her work due to reasons beyond the control of the employer, the employer will be entitled to pay half the salary.
This rule is based on the principle of sharing risks between the two parties (the employee and the employer) so that no party bears the entire burden solely.
Paying half salary in these exceptional times protects employees from being deprived from their full salary based on the principle of "salary against work". It also avoids the termination of employment contracts by employers based on the classical theory of force majeure which can result in rescinding the contracts with all of its consequences.
At the end, we further see the necessity of activating the role of the (“Employees Emergency Fund”) established in Egypt by virtue of Law No. 156 of 2002 which aims to pay subsidies to employees who lost their salaries (wholly or partially).
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For more information, please contact our partner Eman Riad