The Maltese government has been introducing various measures intended to ensure both economic stability and the prevention of uncontrolled spreading of the current virus outbreak. This article highlights the relevant legislation and attempts to answer general queries raised by employers and employees in light of the current situation.
Occupational Health and Safety legislation imposes a general duty on employers to ensure the safety of all employees during working hours. Therefore, employers must undertake their best endeavours to ensure compliance with the instructions and guidelines which are being issued by the Maltese Government and authorities from time to time.
If an employee tests positive, he/she will be eligible for sick leave. On the other hand, if an employee merely demonstrates symptoms, the employer is to instruct the employee to undergo the relative testing and a self-quarantine period. The employer should also instruct the employee not to attend at the workplace.
Employers should also consider imposing travel restrictions and ensure strict adherence to the mandatory quarantine and travel bans introduced by means of various recent legal notices. In default, disciplinary measures should ensue.
Processing of medical data may be justified for the employer to be in a position to take the appropriate preventative measures for the other employees' safety. However, such processing is to be limited to what is necessary and it is imminent that access to such information is strictly limited to those individuals who require such access e.g. Human Resources.
L.N. 62 of 2020 issued on the 13th March 2020 has introduced amendments to the 'Minimum Special Leave Entitlement Regulations' catering for paid Quarantine Leave defined as leave to be granted to an employee without loss of wages in such cases where the employee is legally obliged to abide by quarantine order confining the employee to a certain area or to certain premises as determined by the Superintendent of Public Health under the Public Health Act or by any public authority under any other law.
This shall also be applicable to those employees whose conditions are governed by a Wage Regulation Order. Employers shall also be entitled to request evidence showing that the events have actually occurred and taken place. A minimum fee of €465.87 shall be applicable when contravening these regulations.
In the present circumstances, the employer may decide to temporarily suspend the operation of its business and consider Forced Leave which is deducted from the employees' annual vacation leave entitlement. If the employer decides to go down that route, a written statement is to be issued to the employees. Furthermore, once annual leave entitlement is exhausted, unpaid leave is not automatic. In such case, the employer would need to seek the authorisation from the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations prior to enforcing any unpaid leave periods.
Other Options Available
In light of the current extraordinary circumstances and the hardships which businesses and employers are likely to encounter in the coming days, other options should also be considered. Employers may opt for reduced hours or reduction in working weeks – e.g. a three-day working week. However, prior to introducing such changes, the employer would also need to acquire the authorisation from the respective authorities.
Government Financial Aid Package
On the 18th March 2020 the Prime Minister, the Minister for Finance and Financial Services and the Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses announced a Financial Aid Package aimed at supporting the business community against the highly negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This financial package includes:
- An €800 monthly government benefit for up to 2 months for families with school-aged children where both parents work in the private sector, are unable to work remotely and require additional leave to take care of the children;
- Persons with disabilities who have had to stop working as a result of the outbreak and are unable to work from home, shall be entitled to a benefit of €800 monthly for a specified period;
- A grant of €350 per employee to businesses that have or had employees on mandatory quarantine;
- A grant of 2 days' salary per week (based on a monthly salary of €800) for employees of enterprises that suffered from a complete suspension of operations (e.g. accommodation, food and beverage, language schools and entertainment);
- A grant equivalent to two days' salary per week (based on an assumed monthly salary of €800) for self-employed individuals operating in the said industries. Those self-employed individuals having their own employees shall also receive a grant equivalent to three days' salary per week (based on an assumed monthly salary of €800);
- A grant equivalent to 1 day's salary per week (based on a monthly salary of €800) for employees where the operations of a business have reduced by at least 25%;
- A temporary increase in unemployment benefit of up to €800 monthly for individuals whose full-time employment has been terminated with effect from 9th March 2020;
- New measures linked to employment of third-country nationals;
- New services offered by Jobsplus.
To date, we are still expecting further clarification with respect to the applicability and implementation of the above-mentioned measures and grants. Follow our news section to stay informed with any updates – including the application of such measures.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.