Now that the spread of the Covid-19 virus (commonly known as the Coronavirus) has been declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, countries are now either encouraging or forcing their citizens to lock-down, while working hard to raise awareness so not to cause mass panic. Public and private sectors alike are implementing different working from home policies to avoid group social interaction as well as the spread of coronavirus.
The Egyptian Government has been praised for its approach and precautions with handling the pandemic situation. Most importantly, the Egyptian Government has enforced its measures gradually, so that it does not cause any mass panic within the people. The Prime Minister started with shutting-down schools and universities all the way to suspending international flights, postponing court hearings and finally allowing public sector employees to work from home, if the nature of their jobs so allows. Needless to mention, that this is with the exception of employees working in dynamic entities (e.g. hospitals, water and electricity companies). In light of the same approach, the Egyptian Government may grant additional support subsidies addressed to workforce, such as postponing pay-roll taxes over the upcoming few months.
Although, the Egyptian Government is working so hard to mitigate the risk of having people affected by the Coronavirus, we are not yet aware of any decisions granting subsidies and support to the workforce.
Most of the private sector companies have also invoked work from home policies, which begs the question – what is the legal implications of the current situation especially for employees?
Employer exposure towards employees resulting from the business disruption is not covered under the social insurance and common private insurance schemes. Businesses where work remotely is not feasible or having numerous workforce (such as employees working in factories) are finding a lot of difficulties in their operations.
The Egyptian law granted the employer some tools to mitigate the exposure in these types of situations. Since that such measures would have impact on the employees’ rights, who are also facing the implications of Covid-19, we recommend that employers do not resort to these measures except as last resort and only to maintain the sustainability of the business.
Private Sector Employees
Now up till this moment, private sector employees are still not addressed with the flow of ministerial decrees. So, what to do?
Obligation to Pay the Salaries – Can the Employer reduce the Salary of the employees?
In case the employees are not able to undertake their job duties and responsibilities due to force majeure events (e.g. the Coronavirus pandemic), the employer may reduce the salaries by up to half of the employees’ salary – unless otherwise agreed in the employment agreement or in accordance with the employers’ policies.
That said, it is worth noting that employers may not enforce the terms of an employment agreement in cases of force majeure – provided that it is on a temporary basis and it does not decrease the rights of the employees. A force majeure event is an event which is unforeseeable and beyond the control of the party affected, force majeure events include wars, civil commotions, riots, strikes, lockouts, acts of God, epidemic, accident, fire, flood or adverse weather conditions.
Employers are obliged, pursuant to the provisions of the Egyptian Labour Law no. 12 of 2003, to take all necessary measures to protect their employees from the danger of infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and the rest of biological risks, once the nature of the work exposes the employees to the circumstances of infection therewith, especially with being around sick employees. Employers shall also, in that respect, provide the employees with care service including conduction of medical analyses and examinations.
Can the employer oblige the employees to use their annual leaves?
From a strict theoretical point of view, the employer is the one who has the obligation to grant its employees their annual leaves based on the requirements of the work. This means, that employers may consider obliging the employees to consume their remaining balance of their annual leave or accrued balance from previous years.
Full or Partial Closure
Although we do not hope we reach this point, if the business disruption extended for a considerable period of time, rendering the business venture economically inviable, employers may consider using their rights granted under the Egyptian Labour Law for partial or full closure for economic reasons. The employer liability for employees’ termination is significantly mitigated.
Best Practices Vs, Prohibited Practices
- Best Practices:
Here are some examples of the practices which we deem are amongst the best:
- Some businesses provided the employee medical supplies for the employee and his/her families;
- Some gave a flexible/reduced working hours;
- Businesses have adopted new working from home policies to be applied with immediate effect. Some of them made the “Work from Home” policy mandatory while others made it optional;
- Other options include having the workforce work on rotation basis; and
- Finally, some businesses just sent their employees along with their laptops and big screens directly (so that it is easier for them to work and be productive) to their homes and even bear their transportation expenses, where applicable.
We are of the opinion, that the most effective and humane solution at this point of time is for the employer to adopt a “work from home” policy and oblige the employees to follow and abide by the same as a mandatory requirement rather than have it optional.
- Prohibited Practices:
We urge all business to refrain from the below prohibited practices! Needless to mention that some of them are deemed illegal in light of the Egyptian law and especially, the Labour Law.
To all employers: please refrain from the following:
- Obliging the employees to take unpaid leave till the end of this crisis;
- Terminating the employees; and
- Reducing the salaries of the employees to more than 50%.
Public Sector Employees
Employers in the public and governmental sector should consider authorizing the employees to work from home, if possible. Having a huge volume of the workforce working remotely from their homes is, without a doubt, a new zone for most employers!
Additionally, the Prime Minister’s Decree no. 719 of 2020, has also given exceptional leaves, fully paid, to the following employees:
- Employees with chronic diseases (such as: diabetics; liver, heart, and kidney diseases, as well as cancer patients): during the validity term of this decree (15 days);
- Employees returning home from travelling abroad will also be entitled to a leave for a period of 15 days from the date of their arrival; and
- Pregnant employees and employees with children who are less than 12 years old: during the validity term of this decree (15 days).
The foregoing leaves are in addition to the employee’s leave granted by the law and should not in any way affect his/her financial dues.
Finally, sources suggest that the Egyptian Government is now considering extending the scope of application of the Prime Minister’s Decree no. 719 of 2020 to private sector employees as well.
We shall keep you posted will all updates.
Stay safe, everyone!
Our Senior Associate Alia Monieb welcomes your questions
 This section will be revised, in case of any legal updates.