COVID-19 risk at the workplace – do's and don'ts for employers - Swedish edition (EN)

What prevention measures should the company implement given a potential virus outbreak? Should the company prepare a response plan? May the company direct an employee to work from home? Can the employer share information about infected employees or conduct contact tracking?

Health and safety issues relating to the COVID-19 virus will be relevant for many employers over the coming weeks and months.

What preventive measures should the company implement given a potential virus outbreak?

  • Implement infection prevention measures at the workplace. The Public Health Agency of Sweden has published a FAQ about COVID-19, addressing commonly asked questions, such as information on preventive measures. The Public Health Agency of Sweden has also issued About Novel Coronavirus, an information sheet for travelers.
  • Ask employees returning from areas with ongoing outbreak to work from home the next weeks.
  • Encourage good hand hygiene and cough etiquette, disinfect the workplace regularly, maintain good indoor ventilation and ensure sufficient supplies of disinfectants.

Should the company prepare a response plan for a potential COVID-19 virus outbreak?

There is no specific legal obligation for employers in Sweden to have a workplace response plan for a virus outbreak, but the Work Environment Act instructs employers to systematically work with the work environment and assess risk factors in the company and prepare plans and implement measures in order to reduce any identified risks for the workplace health and safety of employees. Companies should thus continuously assess the risk and prepare necessary actions to be taken.

May the company direct an employee to go home or stay at home if there is an outbreak?

Keeping infected employees away from the workplace will in our opinion be considered a reasonably necessary measure to protect both the workplace, other employees and the public health. The employer may ask employees with detected or suspected virus infection to work from home if the situation so requires.

Can an employer require its employees to undergo medical examinations?

In certain areas of work, such as e.g. work with exposure for some chemical products, an employer shall require an employee to undergo medical examinations on behalf of the employer. Medical examinations may be required in relation to other work, if a risk assessment of the work environment shows that it is motivated. Note that information and consultation requirements with trade unions may also apply.

Can the employer share information about infected employees to prevent further cases?

Employees' personal information, including health status, is confidential and considered as sensitive information under the GDPR. If the employee gives the employer consent to disclose such information in order to prevent further cases, the company should be very careful to only disclose as little information as possible. Employers will in most cases be able to quite easily identify many of the people that have been working close to an infected employee without naming the employee and e.g. opt for letting them work from home in the following weeks. 

Can the employer conduct mapping or contact tracking to prevent further cases?

Currently, there is no duty or legal basis for employers in Sweden to conduct mapping or contact tracking. It is considered a public responsibility to map and identify who has been in contact with detected cases. The contact tracking is done by relevant municipal doctors in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

Law proposal regarding increased support for short time work

Please also note that tomorrow (5 March), the Government will decide on a law proposal regarding increased support for short time work. According to the Government’s Press release (currently only available in Swedish), the proposal implies that companies will receive financial support from the state in order to make employees work reduced hours, instead of the employer needing to terminate their employments. The aim is that this solution will be possible to utilize in an increased number of situations compared to today. The Government states that it aims to strengthen the protection for Swedish employees in times of extensive disruptions due to external events, e.g. due to a severe outbreak or trade barriers. With the possibility of short time work, employments do not have to be terminated due to a redundancy, and companies can quickly get started again when the situation turns around.

 

Schjødt is following the developments on this law proposal.

Lawyers

Jenny Jilmstad
Sandra Nilsson
Eva Jarbekk

Published

04. March 2020