COVID-19 risk at the workplace – do's and don'ts for employers (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 prevention measures should the company implement given a potential virus outbreak?

  • Implement infection prevention measures at the workplace. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has issued Advice and information to the public about novel coronavirus COVID-19, which sets out guidelines on preventive measures.
  • Business travel to areas known to have the virus should be restricted to 'business critical travel' only.
  • 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 Norway to have a workplace response plan for a virus outbreak, but the Working Environment Act instructs employers to 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, the 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?

The Working Environment Act strictly regulates medical examinations on behalf of an employer. The threshold for being considered a medical examination is quite low, and may for instance include requiring the employees to provide a self-declaration on symptoms. Provided that the measure in question is considered to be a medical examination, the employer will also have to demonstrate that it has legal grounds for the measure. Such grounds include if the measure is necessary in order to protect life or health, which must be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Note that information and consultation requirements with employee representatives may also apply.

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

Employees' personal information, including health status, is confidential. 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 Norway 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 Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Lawyers

Eva Jarbekk
Magnus Lütken
Martin Jetlund

Published

02. March 2020