How does the coronavirus affect working life?

We have compiled a basic information packet for you concerning the impacts of the coronavirus disease on working life. At the end of the article, you will find links to information and instructions as provided by the authorities and trade unions. We will update this page as necessary.
16.03. 15:12 Updated 01.04. 12:50
SAK
Photo: Patrik Lindström / SAK

The information package in Finnish
The information package in Swedish

The coronavirus crisis package negotiated by the labour market organisations proposed several measures to the Government that can be used to secure the livelihood of people and the continuation of businesses in this difficult situation. The Government took action on the proposals, and amendments to acts entered into force on 1 April. The changes are in force for three months until 30 June. Read more about the temporary changes in sections 12–14 of this article.

Several proposals in the labour market organisations’ crisis package will be carried out through temporary changes to collective labour agreements, and the unions have already done and are currently doing these sector-specific changes. You can find links to the sector-specific changes at the end of this article.

Questions and answers about salary payments, compensation and the rights and obligations of employees

The questions have been answered by lawyers working for SAK.

1. 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 further on.

2. Can an employer prohibit a healthy employee from coming to work?

Employees have the right to work as specified in their employment contract. An employer can, however, prohibit an employee from coming to work. This type of order does not release the employer from the obligation to pay wages and salaries. Thus, during the period that the employee is forced to remain at home, the employer must pay the same wages or salary as is paid when the employee is at the workplace.

Employees should be given the right to work remotely as much as is possible.

Employers cannot force employees to undergo coronavirus testing.

3. Can an employee opt to stay home from work as a means of preventing the risk of catching coronavirus?

A fear of infection does not entitle an employee to stay home from work. Employees can only be absent from work if such an arrangement has been agreed on. The employees and employer must agree on the payment of wages or salaries if the employees stay home from work on their own initiative. In this situation, however, the employer generally does not need to pay any wages or salary.

4. When can an employer lay off employees due to coronavirus?

Coronavirus can cause a reduction in work and this situation may entitle the employer to lay off employees. The conditions for lay-offs and terminations must be met in this situation. Lay-offs are the primary response. Co-operation negotiations must be held in accordance with the law.

5. What should employees do if they are healthy, but their child, spouse or elderly parent becomes ill?

Employees have the right to an unsalaried leave of absence for compelling family circumstances. An employee can take a temporary leave of absence to care for a sick child, and collective bargaining agreements generally stipulate that wages or salary must be paid in this situation.

If an employee must care for a spouse or elderly parent, they can agree with the employee to work remotely or to use a portion of their annual holiday.

6. Can employees travel for work?

Employers make the decisions regarding business trips. The Government has decided that Finnish citizens and persons residing in Finland must not travel abroad. Finns and permanent residents in Finland returning from abroad will be placed in quarantine-like conditions for two weeks.

Instead of business trips, meetings and other gatherings can be held via video conferencing and other remote connections.

Kela also pays the sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease to employees travelling elsewhere within the EU if the local authorities have ordered the employee into quarantine or isolation. 

7. Can the employer order employees to take their annual holiday or to cancel an already agreed holiday? 

Coronavirus does not entitle employers to deviate from the Annual Holidays Act or collective bargaining agreements. An already approved annual holiday cannot be withdrawn because of the coronavirus situation. Any cancellation of a holiday requires the consent of the employee.

On the basis of the decree concerning the application of the Emergency Powers Act, exceptions can, however, be made to the terms of employment in certain fields; see the next question.

8. What exceptions to employment terms can be made on the basis of the decree concerning the application of the Emergency Powers Act?

The Emergency Powers Act regulates the power of authorities in exceptional situations. The law enables the possibility, by virtue of Government decree, to deviate from the terms and conditions of employment as they concern persons employed in health care services, social services, rescue services, emergency centres and the police. These exceptions are valid temporarily and only apply to tasks in these specific fields.

The employment terms and conditions of employees and local government officials can, by Government decree, deviate from the provisions on rest periods and overtime work in the Working Hours Act (605/1996) and the provisions on the annual holiday in the Annual Holidays Act (162/2005). In practice, the exceptions can mean, for example, longer working hours and exceptional placements, reduced rest periods and increased amount of overtime, compulsory overtime work without the employee’s consent, the possibility to delay an approved holiday or exceptions in provisions concerning the timing of holidays and the holiday period. The Emergency Powers Act does not, however, allow for exceptions, for example, to the regulations concerning the accrual of the annual holiday.

The employer must ensure that these exceptions do not endanger occupational safety or the health of the employee. Any delayed annual holidays must be granted to the employee as soon as the situation allows. Additionally, one condition for exceptions to employment terms is that the employer must ensure, in the workplace, break and rest areas, social areas and food services that enable for proper rest and recovery. The employer must also ensure the equal distribution of loading and that each employee has the possibility to recover from work stress.

By virtue of Government decree, an employer may extend the notice period to be observed by the employee to four months, if the employer is facing a labour shortage as a result of the virus epidemic. The extension of the notice period applies to those persons working in health care services, social services, and rescue and emergency services. This exception does not apply to those carrying out police tasks.

Furthermore, it is possible, by Government decree, to order certain individuals employed in the field of public and private health care to perform the tasks necessary to secure the health care of the population. In addition to doctors and nurses, this work obligation may also be applied to those working in auxiliary service fields such as pharmaceutical services, assistive device services and patient transports.

9. Can an employer force employees to carry out emergency work? 

Employers can force employees to carry out emergency work, if the conditions for emergency work are met. The shop steward must be heard in situations that concern the initiation of emergency work.

10. Does the coronavirus situation entitle an employer to limit employee travel during their free time?

An employer cannot limit the amount that employees travel within Finland during their free time. Decisions concerning restrictions to travel within the country are made by the authorities.

11. From where does an employee get money if there are changes in the work caused by the coronavirus situation? 

Kela pays a sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease if the conditions for the sickness allowance are met (see question 1).

If the employee is working remotely, the employer shall pay normal wages for the hours worked, also in cases where the employer has prevented the employee from working.

The employee has the right to an unemployment allowance if the employee has been laid off or prevented from working in the manner intended by the Unemployment Security Act (1290/2002). The employee must register as an unemployed jobseeker and meet the other conditions to receive an unemployment allowance.

As concerns illnesses that are not related to coronavirus, you have the right, by virtue of the law and collective agreements, to normal salary benefits and sickness allowance benefits if you become ill or must stay home to care for a sick child.

12. How did the provisions on lay-offs change?

The changes entered into force on 1 April and they are in force for three months until 30 June.

  • The minimum negotiation period decreases in lay-off situations to 5 days, whereas the negotiation period normally is 14 days or 6 weeks.
  • The lay-off right applies to fixed-term employment contracts to the same extent as to permanent employment contracts. In lay-off situations, the employee has the right to unemployment security and to terminate the employment contract despite its possible fixed-term status.
  • Employers shall notify employees of a lay-off a minimum of 5 days before the lay-off begins. The notice period is normally a minimum of 14 days (one month in the municipal sector), unless otherwise agreed in the collective bargaining agreement.
  • The sudden and serious weakening in demand for a company’s products and services as a result of the coronavirus situation is a sufficiently weighty reason for an employer to lay off employees prior to the initiation of co-operation negotiations. This assessment will be done on a case-by-case basis and once there are no longer grounds to deviate from the co-operation obligation, the employer must immediately initiate co-operation negotiations. 

The changes on the minimum negotiation period and the notice period in lay-off situations will enter into force as soon as a trade union and an employers’ federation reach an agreement on the change for the working sector concerned. The unions have already done and are currently doing these sector-specific changes.

These changes do not apply to employees in local and central government, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland nor the Evangelical Lutheran and the Orthodox Churches in Finland.

13. How did the provisions on the trial period and the obligation to re-employ change?

The changes entered into force on 1 April and they are in force for three months until 30 June.

  • An employee’s employment contract can be terminated during the trial period, also for financial or production-related reasons. If an employment contract is terminated during the trial period, there is no waiting period before one can begin receiving unemployment security. 
  • If an employer has dismissed employees during the period of the amendments to acts, the employer’s obligation to re-employ lengthens from the normal 4 or 6 months to 9 months. This is the period during which the employer is obligated to offer work to a dismissed employee first if the employer needs new employees to cover the same or similar tasks that the dismissed employee has done.

The change on the obligation to re-employ will enter into force as soon as a trade union and an employers’ federation reach an agreement on the change for the working sector concerned. The unions have already done and are currently doing these sector-specific changes.

These changes do not apply to employees in local and central government, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland nor the Evangelical Lutheran and the Orthodox Churches in Finland.

14. How will the provisions on unemployment security change once the proposed measures of the labour market confederations enter into force upon approval by the Government?

The changes are currently being drafted and they will be implemented quickly and possibly retrospectively. When the changes have entered into force, they will be applicable for a temporary period of three months.

  • The 5-day waiting period before one begins to receive unemployment security will be removed.
  • The maximum duration of the unemployment security (300/400/500 days) does not include the lay-off period. For other receivers of the unemployment security the maximum duration is applied.
  • The condition regarding previous employment will be reduced from 26 weeks to 13 weeks. You must have been a member of an unemployment fund during this period.
  • In addition to the measures presented by the labour market confederations, the Government will secure the livelihood of self-employed persons and freelancers through unemployment security.

Questions and answers concerning coronavirus

Kari Haring, Medical Adviser at SAK answers your questions.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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 question 11).

18. 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.

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

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland – Questions and answers concerning travel and coronavirus

Finnish Immigration Service Information about the effects of the coronavirus on applying for a residence permit and other operations

Information provided by the trade unions and other labour market organisations

Construction Trade Union

Finnish Food Workers’ Union SEL: SEL’s regional offices will close, and events and trips abroad will be cancelled until 31.5.2020

Finnish Musicians’ Union: Coronavirus – impact on Finnish music industry

Industrial Union: Industrial Union to cancel all internal events

Service Union United PAM: Answers to service sector employees on how the spread of the coronavirus might affect their job

Sector-specific changes to lay-offs, trial period and obligation to re-employ

Construction Trade Union

Service Union United PAM

You will find more links to the sector-specific changes at the end of the article in Finnish.