Information on the coronavirus

Having regard to the extraordinary legal order (emergency) announced by the Hungarian government and the issues raised in the past period we hereby provide information, including, but not limited to, the coronavirus as follows:

As a result of the emergency declared on 11th March the Hungarian government can introduce emergency measures. In this context, the Hungarian government may adopt new regulations – as stipulated in the relevant cardinal law – that may suspend the application of certain legislation, derogate from legal provisions and may pass other exceptional measures. Such regulations shall, as a general rule, remain effective for fifteen days unless the Hungarian government, acting on authorisation by the National Assembly, extends the scope of the regulation.

The Hungarian government has, inter alia, announced the following measures:

– a ban on entrance from Italy, China, Iran, South Korea and Israel,
– stricter measures at the Slovenian and Austrian border,
– a ban to enter and visit universities, schools – and according to the decision of some local government, certain kindergartens, nurseries and sport facilities,
– a ban on indoor event of more than 100 people and outdoor events of more than 500 people,
– sanctions against rumourmongers and those who violate the quarantine,
– a ban on foreign travels of Hungarian students,
– extraordinary judgment break.

We would like to draw attention to the fact that employers have not only the interest, but also the duty to deal with the current disease situation, since it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure and create safe working conditions that pose no threat to health.

If there is an official measure taken due to the epidemic (e.g. quarantine or curfew), and home office is not a viable solution because the laptop required for the remote work cannot be delivered to the employee, or the employee has a job which does not enable him/her – even temporarily – to work remotely (even by providing them with tasks that differ from their regular job description), such employee will be considered incapacitated (until the official measures persist). The employee is not entitled for their salary, but they are entitled to sickness leave benefits.

In the absence of an official measure the employee is obliged to work, and employer is obliged to employ the employee. It means that a healthy worker has to go to work. If the situation in Hungary, or in particular in Budapest or in Pest county becomes sufficiently severe (similar to the former lock-down of northern Italian small towns), but no official measure has been taken yet that would effectively hinder work, employer may decide to allow temporary remote work from home in cases where the job enables it.

The tools and devices required for working in home office must be provided by the employer, as in the case of ‘ordinary’ and ‘average’ home office. It is worthwhile to assess how many laptops you may need for this purpose.
The employer could also make an agreement with the employee on the employee providing the laptop for work, but it may not be practically feasible as remote access and appropriate software/application must be provided with the help of the IT personnel that would enable employees to perform their work and – last, but not least – the protection of employer’s data, i.e. that trade secrets could not be transferred to the employee’s own laptop. Where appropriate, the parties may also agree, if necessary, for the employees to use their own phone during home office and the work-related costs of which to be reimbursed by the employer.

In case of workers who have recently returned to Hungary from an area where the virus is already widespread – such countries currently are China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Israel – the employer may request the affected employees to work in home office for two weeks for which – as described above – the employer must provide the appropriate working tools.

This measure may be extended to those who are in close contact with a person who has recently been to one of the severely affected areas, to people and others closely related to such people who otherwise have been to a place or community where it can be justifiably presumed that they have been in contact with an infected person. As part of their labour cooperation, employees can be expected to verify such facts, even though possible abuses cannot be completely eliminated.

In the coming period, for the purposes of prevention and the protection of the other colleagues the employees may be requested to report/inform the employer and/or their manager if themselves or a person closely related to them has visited a severely affected area or community and they shall provide eventual proof thereof, if required.

A more difficult question is posed by those people who have recently visited some severely affected area and are not sick, but their remote work cannot be arranged because, for example, they do not have the type of job that could be done remotely from home. If the employer fails to comply with their employment obligation, the employee is entitled to a base salary for this period (downtime), unless the employment obligation was not fulfilled due to an unavoidable external reason. In such cases, it is true that the reason itself is unavoidable, but its assessment is not uniform as to whether it constitutes an external reason independent from the work organisation and thus, whether the employer has the option of not paying wages/salary for the affected employee during the downtime period.

In any event, employees should avoid private travels to areas currently known to be severely affected, unless it is absolutely indispensable.

Other recommended actions: Based on information provided by the WHO (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019), the National Centre for Public Health (https://www.nnk.gov.hu/) and the Hungarian government (https://koronavirus.gov.hu/) the attention of the workers should be drawn to appropriate prevention (thorough and frequent hand washing, disinfection, sneezing into a paper tissue), and if possible it is recommended to place disinfectants (ex. at the entrances and by the sinks).

It is also worth consulting the health and safety consultant and the company’s physician to see what other specific recommendations they have regarding the appropriate rules of procedures. The employees should also be informed that they must monitor themselves if they have visited a place or met people that may be affected, and to stay at home and call their general practitioner even with a slight fever or symptoms of a simple cold.

The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) issued a statement on 10th March 2020 regarding the coronavirus epidemic. On the basis thereof, the following expected and recommended employer measures may be stressed, which are relevant not only from a data processing aspect:

– the preparation of a pandemic/business continuity action plan (regarding employees, clients and business partners),
– the drawing up of a detailed information notice and sharing thereof with employees that contains appropriate employer’s instructions for the employees,
– the reorganisation of the business itself and the business trips.

Please note that you must comply with the provisions of the GDPR regulations even during data processing due to an epidemic, especially when processing health-related data. The NAIH stressed that the collection and assessment of information and the drawing of conclusions therefrom is the task of healthcare professionals and that of the authorities.