What happens when a coronavirus case is confirmed in the workplace?    

What are the steps and procedures to be undertaken? Can the company/organisation continue its activity? Is it mandatory to test all employees of the company and to quarantine the contact people?   

What happens when a coronavirus case is confirmed in the workplace?

Although a number of anti-pandemic legislative changes have taken place in Bulgaria in recent months, there is no unambiguous answer to this question. From the point of view of employer's obligations, there are a several key points to consider: 

Firstly, employers have an obligation to ensure healthy and safe working conditions. This principle has been reinforced since day one of the declaration of the state of emergency in Bulgaria. Labour law enforcement authorities emphasised the need for renewal of risk assessments. The State of Emergency Measures Act  provided for new opportunities for outsourcing and teleworking, in order for companies to continue their activities, while limiting the risks of gathering staff in the office. The Orders of the health and labour ministers quickly became an important source for labour law. The dynamics of these documents challenged employers with complying to rapidly changing and not very clearly defined obligations.

At the same time, the actual detection of a contagious (or any other kind) of disease is not within the competence of the employer, but of the relevant health authorities. There is no way to require and expect employers to "diagnose" their employees. The current version of Order RD-01-369 / 30.06.2020 of the Minister of Health provides for non-admission to the work premises of people "with manifestations of acute respiratory diseases" (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, loss of smell, disturbance or loss of taste, etc.). But how are these symptoms detected? In many places it has become a common practice to measure body temperature of people entering the office. This, however, raises a number of questions in terms of personal data processing, respectively - over-interference with personal space.

In practice, employers face two scenarios:    

1. Detect the manifestation of symptoms in an employee, such as fever, or   

2. Obtain this information from the employee himself/herself   

In both cases, the employer's competence for further analysis of the employee's health state ends here. The investigation of cases of infectious diseases and their registration is performed by the competent health authorities (Ordinance № 21 of 18.07.2005 on the procedure for registration, notification and reporting of infectious diseases). What the employer can do is notify the Regional Health Inspectorate (RHI) of the circumstances and seek further guidance. The employee should not be allowed to work and should be referred for a medical examination. In the meantime, all prescribed anti-epidemic measures in the work premises must be observed: ensuring physical distance between people, disinfection according to an algorithm specified in an annex to the order of the Minister of Health, etc.

What are the steps and procedures ahead?

With the Amendments to the Health Act (promulgated SG, issue 44 / 13.05.2020) COVID-19 was explicitly included among the diseases, in which mandatory isolation and / or hospital treatment of infected people is required. Contact people are subject to mandatory quarantine. The competence to impose these measures belongs to the director of the respective Regional Health Inspectorate. These rules are further developed in Order of the Minister of Health № RD-01-371 / 30.06.2020.

Can the company continue its activity? Under what circumstances and for how long can it be shut down?

The introduced anti-epidemic measures are obligatory for all employers, whose activity has not been terminated by an act of a state body during the declared emergency epidemic situation. If one or more cases are detected of coronavirus-infected employees, the relevant RHI will determine how to reach out to the contact people, without necessarily leading to the closure of the company. Of course, it is not excluded that the quarantine of a large percentage of staff may lead to a temporary suspension of the activity for the period of the imposed quarantine.

It is worth recalling that the rules on health and safety at work, which in this case include anti-epidemic measures, are controlled by the labour law enforcement authorities. They also have the power to impose coercive administrative measures, including to stop the activity of organisations, production and sites when the violations of the rules for healthy and safe work conditions endanger the life and health of the people.

Is it mandatory to test all employees of the company and to quarantine the contact people?

As mentioned, these issues are of a medical nature and the decision depends on the health authorities. Testing of all people, who have been in contact with the infected person, will probably be undertaken. The way to determine the circle of "close contact people" is established in Annex № 4 to Order № RD-01-371 / 30.06.2020 of the Minister of Health. For example, close contact with a patient with COVID-19 is defined as being indoors for 15 minutes or more at a distance of two meters.     


* This text was initially published on: economy.bg

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