Life in Germany is slowly returning to normal, many companies are about to get their employees back to the office, but there are some concerns about health conditions. In this article we will try to answer all the most important questions on the subject.
Can the employer force his employees to return to the office?
Yes, at least most of them. “With the right to give instructions, the employer basically has the authority to determine the workplace,” says Sebastian Schröder, owner of the law firm Emplaw in Viersen.
Of course there are exceptions, for example: if employees have agreed with their employer, at the beginning of the pandemic, to work from home for 6 months, the company is bound to respect this agreement. Even parents who cannot find childcare for their children under the age of 12 could not be forced to return to the office. In any case, the company will have to involve the works council in the decision-making process. Schröder, for its part, recommends that companies give employees at least 7 days’ notice to enable them to prepare for their return to the office.
For groups at risk? What if employees are afraid of being infected?
Employees do not have the right to stay at home as a preventive measure if they are afraid of getting an infection. This also applies to groups at risk, even though companies should be very carefully with their health. Those who refuse to go to work may receive a reprimand or even be fired because there is no right to a home office in Germany. Schröder reassures that, however, for all those who belong to a risk group, dismissal would be disproportionate if they could do their work from home.
Can the company force its employees to download the Corona warning application?
The company cannot force its employees to download the Covid-19 control application on private mobile phones, whether this also applies to company phones is still a controversial issue. Schröder claims that the employer has the authority to require the app to be installed on the company mobile phone, but advises them not to require it, but only to recommend its use.
What are protective measures that companies must take?
Companies must take precautions to protect the health of their employees: “If the employer is unwilling or unable to do so, no one should return to the office,” says Schröder. The Covid-19 protection regulations published by the Ministry of Labour provide good guidance. According to these standards, companies are obliged to allow a minimum distance of 1.50 m between employees’ workstations and ventilate the working environment on a regular basis. Disinfectant dispensers must be installed and break times must be standardized. Personal meetings should also be kept to a minimum. The employer may require his employees to wear a protective mask for the mouth and nose in the office as well, provided that this is reasonable and the company provides the masks.
Can companies establish permanent home working?
No. “Companies should not force their employees to work from home permanently,” says Schröder, because “that would interfere too much with their private life”. Two years ago, a German company fired an engineer because he refused to always work from home. The labour court in Berlin-Brandenburg invalidated the dismissal precisely for this reason.