Avoiding coronavirus infection and falling ill

Updated on 18 June at 09:35

How should an employer prepare for coronavirus?

As stipulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, it is the employer’s responsibility to assess the dangers and risks of the work, to plan and implement protective measures and to safeguard the safety and health of the work environment. When necessary, the employer also makes the decision to suspend or discontinue the work. 

Employers must monitor and comply with the information and instructions of the authorities. Currently, there are many restrictions in effect in Finland and employers must assess the effect of these restrictions on their personnel and the work being done. 

It is important for employers to give clear instructions and specify actions that employees can take to best protect themselves from the epidemic. The best means of preparation is to emphasise the significance of hand hygiene, to enable employees to be absent due to illness on their own notification, to reconsider visit and meeting practices, and to agree on remote working possibilities if possible. 

Protection issues can also be discussed with the occupational health and safety delegate in the workplace.

How can employees protect themselves from the risk of infection?

It appears that coronavirus is transmitted through droplets as well as from skin to mucous membranes as a result of physical contact. For this reason, handwashing is extremely important. Hands should be washed regularly using soap and water. Hand sanitizers can also be helpful, but not as effective as a thorough washing. Do not rub your eyes, stick your fingers into your nose or bite your nails, if your hands have not been washed first.

Try to avoid close contact with any person who has signs of a respiratory infection. Even if a person is not experiencing symptoms, they might still be spreading the disease, so all forms of contact should be minimised. Many service sector businesses have, for example, recommended bank card payments as a means of minimising direct contact.

There is not yet enough information about how long the virus remains viable on tabletops or other surfaces, but careful cleaning of these surfaces couldn’t hurt.

What should I do if I suspect I might have contracted coronavirus?

Those with mild infection symptoms are recommended to stay at home and continue to practice good hand hygiene and avoid contact with others. One exception is health care workers, who will, if possible, be tested if it is suspected that they may have been exposed to the infection.

If you have strong symptoms, such as a high fever and respiratory difficulties, do not go to your local health centre, but call the helpline of your local health centre or the national telephone service at 0295 535 535 (weekdays 8 a.m.–9 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m.–3 p.m.). The national telephone service operates primarily in Finnish, but, whenever possible, service is also provided in Swedish and English. 

Inform your employer that you are sick using the method agreed on in your workplace. Many companies have written up instructions on how to inform of illness and have added the possibility to be absent without a medical certificate. If you become ill, you are still entitled to wages, a sickness allowance or a sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease (see below).

Who makes the decision about whether those who have become ill or been exposed to the virus should be quarantined?

Any quarantine decisions are made by the doctor who is responsible for infectious disease control in each municipality or hospital district.

When am I eligible for Kela’s sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease?

Kela pays a sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease, which compensates for the full loss of income, to a sick employee throughout the period of corona quarantine or isolation. If the employer has paid wages to the employee during the employee’s sick leave, Kela will pay the sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease to the employer.

A guardian or parent who is caring for a sick child under 16 years of age is also eligible for a sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease if the child has been quarantined and, as a result, the parent or guardian cannot go to work. There is no specified waiting period for this allowance. Annual holiday days are accrued during the period of quarantine.

In order to receive a sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease, it is required that the decision concerning the quarantine or isolation be made by the doctor responsible for infectious disease control in the relevant municipality or hospital district. An employer or school’s request to stay home is not sufficient grounds for the sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease.

Anyone who suspects that they are ill or have been exposed must act according to the instructions of the proper health care authorities.

Coronavirus may bring about changes in the workplace, such as absences among employees and changes in business activities. The impacts of these situations on the workplace are discussed on Rights and duties of employees.

You are also entitled to normal pay and sickness benefits under the law and collective agreement when you are ill, or caring for a sick child, for reasons unrelated to coronavirus.

Is illness caused by coronavirus eligible for compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act?

An illness caused by coronavirus may be eligible for statutory compensation as an occupational disease on the basis of the Workers’ Compensation Act (459/2015) if it was probably principally contracted at work, in the vicinity of the place of work, or in work-related training.

The ability to determine the source and circumstances of the infection is a condition of eligibility for compensation. This means that it must be possible to verify that the infection occurred while working.

Occupational disease compensation requires a diagnosed illness. An occupational illness caused by coronavirus may also be considered in occupations other than social and health care. Mere exposure to coronavirus is not an occupational disease, nor does it confer eligibility for occupational disease compensation.

The claim form related to a suspected occupational disease must be completed with care. Compensation for an occupational disease requires a precise and detailed description of the infection and illness, and of the fact that the infection was not contracted during leisure time.

Use of a face mask and other protective equipment reduces the risk of infection at work, but does not provide complete protection. The protection against infection provided by surgical and fabric masks in particular is deficient. Insurance companies may request further details of other potential sources of infection. No occupational disease compensation will be paid if it is more likely that the infection was contracted elsewhere than at work.

Information from authorities

Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare – information and instruction

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health – Information for workplaces

Kela – Information regarding the sickness allowance paid on account of an infectious disease