On 17 April 2020, the Thai government published in the Royal Gazette two ministerial regulations relating to social security relief.
One of them temporarily increases unemployment allowance rates (from a maximum of THB 7,500 to THB 15,000) and the eligible period (from a maximum of 180 days to 200 days) for employees whose employment comes to an end due to a termination, resignation or non-renewal of an employment contract because of the economic downturn. These temporary measures are effective from 1 March 2020 to 28 February 2022.
The other one allows employees who possess the following two qualifications to seek up to three months' special monthly allowance from the Social Security Office in an amount roughly between THB 6,000 and THB 9,300 depending on their wages ("Special Relief"):
- employees eligible to seek Special Relief must have paid at least six months' contributions to the Social Security Fund during the past 15 months; and
- such employees must not receive payment from their employer due to temporary cessation of business between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
To qualify for Special Relief, eligible employees must provide to the Social Security Office a letter from their employers confirming a temporary cessation of business, in whole or in part, due to a force majeure event, as specifically defined for this purpose in the ministerial regulations to include situations where an employer is severely affected by the pandemic.
The introduction of Relief would appear to provide all employers who are severely affected by the pandemic, but yet not directly ordered by the government to temporarily cease businesses, with an opportunity to voluntarily cease businesses and stop paying wages to their employees, and to instead issue a confirmation letter to allow employees to seek Special Relief from the Social Security Office.
Whether or not an employer is actually severely affected by the pandemic and therefore qualified to declare a business cessation due to a force majeure event, remains a matter of fact that will be determined on a case-by-case basis. This creates a risk that any employees who wish to receive their full wages from their employer instead of nominal Special Relief from the Social Security Office may subsequently challenge the employers' declaration of a force majeure event and seek from their employers retroactive payments of their wages during the temporary business cessation. These employees would be entitled to retroactively receive their full wages from their employers if they can successfully convince the court that their employers are not severely affected by the pandemic.
Employers are advised to seek independent legal advice before proceeding with temporary cessation of business.
Originally published June 1st, 2020
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