The pandemic caused by Covid-19 is creating havoc around the world. According to WHO’s website, as of September 20, 2020, there are more than 30.8 Million confirmed cases and 9,57,000 deaths globally due to Covid-19, with the US, Italy, Spain, and China being the most affected.
India, the second-most populous country in the world, is no exception for Covid-19. However, the Indian Govt. was prompt in taking some bold preventive measures to contain the deadly virus.
In a very significant change, on 24 March 2020, the Prime Minister of India declared a nationwide 21-day lockdown with effect from 00:00 on 25 March 2020. The initial lockdown has now been extended up to 3 May 2020 by the Prime Minister, and the Ministry of Home Affairs has directed that the lockdown measures stipulated earlier continue during this period. To avoid the spread of Covid-19, this lockout of approximately one-fifth of the world's population is intended to ensure successful social distancing. While the lockout is undeniably necessary for the pandemic to be controlled, it is difficult to disregard the effect on the industry and the economy that regard, on 26 March 2020, the Minister of Finance, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, announced an INR 1.70 Lac Crore relief package under the auspices of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, especially for the country's poor and poor population.This entails the government paying for the next three months both the employer's and employee's share of the provident fund contributions to establishments/organizations of up to 100 workers, where most employees receive a monthly salary of INR 15,000 or less.
Are there any guidelines while implementing work from home?
Given the lockdown, most employers have been asked to have their employees work from home where possible. The key employment law considerations that employers should keep in mind when implementing work from home are:
•Hours of Work, Productivity, and Performance Testing
The concept of working from home is not specifically regulated or governed by statute. Therefore, the employment laws that would otherwise apply to an employee when working from the employer's establishment would continue to apply in the absence of a specific statute, and an employer would have to be aware that employees do not work beyond their regular working hours and comply with relevant overtime requirements. The employer would now have to adapt the normal approaches to work from home with respect to performance monitoring and efficiency. This will involve using software to track their workers working remotely and requiring workers to provide their supervisors with summaries of the work they are doing daily.
•Confidentiality and Data Security
Confidentiality and data protection are some of the key concerns when it comes to encouraging workers to work from home. It is also recommended that additional data protection steps be taken by employers to ensure that their IT infrastructure and resources are secured.To ensure that their data protection and confidentiality is not compromised, some employers have resorted to geo-tagging of their devices.
To encourage employers to allow workers to work from home, the Department of Telecommunications granted some relaxations in the terms and conditions prescribed for Other Service Providers (OSPs) concerning their employees' right to work from home through a circular dated 13 March 2020. Until 30 April 2020, exemptions / relaxations were open.This circular inter alia exempts OSPs from the requirement to pay a security deposit and have an agreement to enable work-from-home options or seek prior permission to allow work from home. Furthermore, OSPs have been removed from the necessity of an approved service provider providing a protected VPN.OSPs may now use secured VPNs configured using ‘static IP’ addresses by themselves to enable interconnection between the home agent position and the OSP center with pre-defined locations.
Is India doing enough for the employment sector?
Employers across different industries are facing a major cash crunch due to the lack of production and/or consumption by consumers, and the ability to receive payments, given the lockdown and the general economic crisis globally and in India. This has led many companies to explore different cost-cutting steps to ensure that once the lockdown is lifted, they can maintain their business.These steps would include decreases in their overheads, including wages for workers. In this respect, directives and advisories have been provided by the Central Government and various State Governments encouraging/requiring employers not to fire their workers and pay full wages to them.While this is a commendable step and would ensure job security during the lockdown, it would have an adverse impact in the long term. Employers will not be able to take any cost-cutting measures in the near term because of these instructions and advisories and may have no choice but to drain their savings, possibly resulting in drastic steps such as breaking up companies or looking at significant restructuring in the long term. This is hazardous for the economy and employment. Therefore, it would be important for the Central and state governments to provide clarity and uniformity with regard to the directions/ advisories to employers and to allow employers, in a regulated manner, to negotiate and arrive at an understanding with their employees to allow for some short term measures such as a temporary reduction in wages or providing for employees to go on leave to reduce the liability of the company with a longer-term view of retaining jobs.
The business and commercial activities listed that have been approved to operate as of 20 April 2020 are needed to enforce the following SOPs and other conditions as specified by the local administrative authorities:
1.The premises should be completely disinfected especially the entrance, cafeteria, toilet, lifts, conference room, etc.
2.For workers traveling from outside, there should be special transportation arrangements.
3.Any vehicle and machinery entering the premises should also be disinfected regularly.
4.Mandatory thermal scanning of everyone entering and exiting the workplace.
5.All workers must have medical insurance.
6.Provision for hand wash & sanitizers at common areas, entry, and exits.
7.There should be a one-hour gap between shifts, and lunch/ tea breaks should be staggered to ensure social distancing.
8.Meetings of 10 or more people to be discouraged. There should be a gap of at least 6 feet between two persons.
9.Not more than 2 persons at a time in a lift. Bigger lifts can have 4 persons. The use of the staircase should be encouraged.
10.Strict ban on chewing gutka, tobacco, and spitting.
11.A total ban on non-essential visitors at sites.
12.A list of nearby hospitals/ clinics which are authorized to treat Covid-19 patients should be available at the workplace.
How to reduce the pandemic impact on employees?
1.Ensure effective communication with employees. How leaders behave during critical moments leaves a lasting mark on their companies and people. Therefore, consistent and effective communication and interaction with employees can strengthen the company and enhance its culture. Remember to think of the future. If there is disruption, there will also be recovered.
2.Share the up-to-date and relevant information about COVID-19 symptoms and disease prevention recommendations among company employees. Use only credible sources of information, such as the World Health Organization. You can establish a dedicated hotline or conduct a series of remote seminars with relevant health professionals to facilitate question and answer sessions with your employees.
3.Consider providing psychological and financial support to your employees, such as emergency assistance, additional insurance coverage, regular payroll payments.
4.Focus on organizing a safe work environment: purchase of medical equipment and supplies (e.g., thermometers, antibacterial products), self-monitoring of employees' health, and disinfection of workplaces.
5.Some foreign businesses have already reviewed their sick-leave policies. In particular, they provide for a temporary absence from work due to illness without the need to provide doctor's notes for absences.
6.Work through the most difficult scenarios (for example, if there is a need to close offices or some production lines) and prepare appropriate communications for your employees in advance. Your task is to provide a constructive response, and not a chaotic communication with employees, or no communication at all.
1. ‘COVID-19: Impact on Labor and Employment’<https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-impact-on-employment-and-labor.aspx> accessed 20September 2020
2.‘COVID-19 and its impact on businesses and workers’<https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25843&LangID=E>
accessed 22 September 2020
3.‘Employee concerns about COVID-19’ <https://www.mmc.com/insights/publications/2020/march/employee-concerns-about-covid-19.html>
accessed 25 September 2020