March 29, 2020

Corona virus facing it at embassies – a legal approach

As the coronavirus crisis continues, Embassies, as employers, are facing many questions. Russell Advocaten provides your Embassy with answers to the most important legal questions that may arise regarding your Embassy’s personnel. Does the Q&A below not answer all the questions of your Embassy? Or does your Embassy have to face legal issues as a result of the coronavirus? Please contact the Embassy Desk of Russell Advocaten at + 31 20 301 5555 or embassydesk@russell.nl

By: Priscilla C.X. de Leede, LL.M. & Jan Dop, LL.M. employment lawyers at Russell Advocaten. 

Embassy employees want to work from home. Do I have to allow that?

Yes, if the work so permits, you have to allow it. The government’s advice is to work from home where possible. However, if the employee does not have a cold or there is no situation as referred to by the RIVM and it is impossible to work from home, the employee in principle must go to work. If the employee refuses this, for instance out of fear of being infected where there is no concrete reason, you can consider that as refusal to perform work.

What do I have to keep in mind if I have my personnel work from home?

As an employer you have a duty of care to ensure your employee’s safety and health. This includes ensuring a good workplace for employees, also if your Embassy’s employees work from home because of the coronavirus. For instance, they must be provided with a well-adjusted chair, table and monitor. Make sure to always point out the health and safety risks to your employees and evaluate what they have to keep in mind. The latter is particularly important now that many employees are working from home for the first time and have not yet set up an appropriate place for it. In addition, you as an employer, can also ensure that good arrangements are made regarding communication, planning and productivity.

What do I have to keep in mind when working from home regarding the processing of personal data of costumers and colleagues?

The protection of one’s own personal data, as well as those of colleagues and customers must be carefully ensured. Especially now that a lot of work is carried out at home, you, as an employer, must be aware of the privacy risks involved. First of all, inform employees of your Embassy of the privacy policy and how to act in the event of certain situations (e.g. a data leak). In addition, ensure that a secure connection can also be used when working from home, by means of two-factor authentication and a VPN connection. Finally, make good arrangements with your employee about the use of the work lap top and/or their own equipment. This is the only way that personal data can be protected as good as possible when working from home.

Holidays cancelled: do employees get their leave reimbursed?

Holiday plans are cancelled at an increasing rate due to negative travel advice, closed accommodations or other measures related to the coronavirus. What do you, as employer, have to do with a request about reimbursement of scheduled leave? Although the risk that holidays are cancelled is for the employee, it is in principle reasonable that they wish to take their holiday at another time. If you do not have any substantial business interests, you will thus have to accept a withdrawal of an application for leave. There may be substantial business interests, if you have already made the work schedules for the other employees or if you have arranged for replacements.

May I deny employees access to their office at the Embassy?

As an employer, you are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment. Therefore, it is in principle allowed to deny employees access to the office if they pose a risk to the safety and health of other employees at the Embassy. So the employee which you suspect or know for sure to be infected with the coronavirus must stay home and you can deny him or her access to the office.

Are my employees from outside the European Union allowed to travel to the Netherlands?

In principle, that is not permitted. Europe’s external borders have been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. This closure does not apply to holders of a Dutch residence permit or a long-stay visa (MVV). As it concerns only a closure of the external borders, individuals with the nationality of an EU Member State, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein or the UK and diplomats are allowed to enter the Netherlands for the time being. Incidentally, the Dutch government urgently advises to only travel if it is absolutely necessary and you have to take into account limited availability of flights and (international) public transport.

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