Should employers start to prepare for an announcement concerning the end of the state of epidemic in Poland?
The state of epidemic in Poland, which has been in place since March 2020, is due to end as early as 16 May 2022. However, according to the government’s plans, the state of epidemic threat is to remain in force after the cancellation of the state of epidemic. This means that employers will not immediately have to return to the “old reality”, as many of the solutions provided for in the so-called Covid Law will remain in force until the second of the states, i.e. state of epidemic threat, is also cancelled, which, according to preliminary announcements made by the government, may not happen until September 2022.
Below, we discuss the most important labour law issues that arose as a result of COVID-19 and the changes that employers should prepare for when the state of epidemic and state of epidemic threat are cancelled in the near future.
How long will the solutions provided by the Covid Law be in place after the state of epidemic has been cancelled? How will these changes affect the obligations of employers and employees?
1) Remote work
As a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, remote working has become very common. As the law currently stands, employers can instruct employees to work remotely during a state of epidemic threat or state of epidemic, and for a period of three months after they have been cancelled.
At the same time, work is underway on new regulations on remote working, which are to become a permanent part of the amended Labour Code. According to preliminary announcements, they are expected to enter into force in the first half of this year.
The details of the draft amendments to the Labour Code are described here.
2) Employment of foreigners
The validity of work permits and the permissible period of work of foreign nationals on the basis of a statement on entrusting work to foreigners, as well as the validity of temporary residence permits, national visas and residence cards, were extended under the Covid Law until the end of the 30th day following the day of cancellation of the state of epidemic or state of epidemic threat – whichever was last in force.
During this 30-day period, the stay of foreigners in Poland on the basis of, among others, a Schengen visa, the visa-free regime or a long-stay visa is also considered legal under the Covid Law.
The deadlines for submitting applications for temporary residence permits, permanent residence permits, residence permits for long-term EU residents, for the extension of visas or for the extension of a stay under the visa-free regime were extended under the Covid Law for the same period.
Before the expiry of this 30-day deadline, employers and employees should take appropriate actions and meet their obligations in this respect.
3) Compulsory leave
The Covid Law provides that during a state of epidemic threat or a state of epidemic, the employer may instruct its employees to take their outstanding holiday leave on dates selected by the employer. The employer may instruct its employees to use up to 30 days of outstanding holiday leave in this way, and employees have to accept these instructions.
4) Medical examinations and occupational health and safety training
Under the Covid Law, the obligation of the employer to refer employees for periodic medical examinations was suspended.
Employers should bear in mind that medical certificates issued for initial, periodic and follow-up medical examinations that expired after 7 March 2020 will remain valid until no later than 180 days after the date on which the state of epidemic threat or state of epidemic is cancelled.
Therefore, employers should remember that once both states have been cancelled, the suspended obligations will once more become applicable, including referring employees for appropriate medical examinations.
Occupational health and safety training
The Covid Law have allowed for the conducting of initial occupational health and safety training entirely remotely (with certain exceptions – for example, for employees employed in a position where there is exposure to hazardous agents) during a state of epidemic threat or a state of epidemic. With the cancellation of both states, this will no longer be possible (there has been no official information about whether this possibility may be extended).
In addition, the Covid Law provides that if the deadline for periodic occupational safety and health training falls within the period of a state of epidemic threat or a state of epidemic – or within 30 days of the cancellation of these states, the deadline for carrying out the training is extended to the 60th day after the cancellation of the state of epidemic threat or state of epidemic.
As the above shows, following the planned cancellation of the state of epidemic (and the introduction of the state of epidemic threat), a number of important arrangements and facilitations relating to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic will still be in place.
However, if the state of epidemic threat is cancelled soon, employers and employees will have to return to fulfilling the obligations that were suspended for the duration of the epidemic, in particular with regard to occupational health and safety training and medical examinations, and to complete all the outstanding formalities related to the employment of foreigners, which may be time-consuming due to the current heavy workload of public authorities.
Izabela Olejarz, Junior Associate