As we previously reported, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the global workplace and international employer-employee relations in profound ways. As COVID-19 continues to spread, countries are enacting legislation and issuing guidance to support employers and employees as they confront the global crisis. In particular, Brazil, with a population of over 211 million, and India, with a population of approximately 1.3 billion, each has enacted measures to combat the ongoing economic and financial troubles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, Brazil has issued federal provisional measures, including Provisional Measure No. 936 (“MP-936”) and Provisional Measure No. 927 (“MP-927”), to socialize the idea that employers may seek to reduce employees’ pay in exchange for greater job security. MP-936 provides for an Emergency Employment and Income Maintenance Program, including an Emergency Employment and Income Preservation Benefit (the “Benefit”), as well as policies for reducing salary and working hours and suspending employment agreements, and provisions for collective bargaining agreement (“CBAs”) meetings by virtual means. In particular, MP-936 and MP-927 provide for the following:
- Salary and Hourly Reductions: MP-936 allows salary and hours reductions for up to a 90-day period. Each employee’s pay rate, hours and tenure must be preserved and reinstated upon the employee’s return to work. In the event of a reduction in salary and/or hours, the government is responsible for paying the Benefit. Employees who receive the Benefit still may receive unemployment insurance benefits. The amount of the Benefit that employees receive is based upon the amount of unemployment insurance to which they are entitled. For employees who earn less than R$3,135 or more than R$12,202.12 there is no obligation to have collective negotiations. There are various notice requirements for any salary and hours reduction, and an employer’s failure to comply may result in legal sanctions or fines. The presence of a CBA may provide for different reduction and notice requirements.
- Suspension of Employment: MP-936 provides for suspension of employment agreements (e.g., furlough) for a period of up to 60 days, with the government paying a Benefit of 100% of the unemployment insurance to which employees are entitled. Employers are required to preserve employees’ current pay rate, hours and tenure, and employees are entitled to all employer-provided benefits. For employers who earned a gross revenue exceeding R$4,800,000 in 2019, the government will pay a Benefit of 70% of the employment insurance that employees are entitled to, provided that during the suspension period, employers pay to employeesfinancial support equal to 30% of employees’ salary. There are various notice requirements for any reduction. If employees work during a suspension, including engaging in any telework, then the suspension will be deemed not to have occurred, and legal sanctions and fines may be imposed upon employers. For employers whose income tax is calculated on the basis of actual income, financial support is deductible from the net revenue for purposes of calculating employers’ income tax. Note that redundancy terminations are considered terminations without cause, and employers have the sole discretion to determine selection criteria and severance packages.
- Use of Accrued, Unused Paid Leave: MP-927 authorizes not only the use of accrued but unused paid leave, but also the use of holidays still being accrued, as well as holidays for which the accruing period has not even started.
India has imposed even broader employee protections that require employers to bear the heavy economic burden to support employees during the national lockdown. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian government invoked special provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (the “DMA”) to implement a series of orders under the DMA (“Orders”) to impose a 21-day nationwide lockdown, effective March 25, 2020.
To counter the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on India’s labor force, the Orders include strict directives for employers. The Orders prohibit employers from terminating any employees or contract labor during the lockdown, except for disciplinary reasons. In addition, the Orders bar employers from reducing employees’ wages. In addition, the Indian government has addressed the following issues that affect employers and employees:
- Maintaining the Workforce: During the lockdown, employers should not reduce or stop salary payments or terminate employees. Similarly, employers may not reduce work hours and wages during the lockdown. Employers, however, may temporarily halt non-statutory benefits and postpone incentives until the business normalizes, provided that such measures adhere to employers’ internal policies, employee handbook provisions and/or employment agreements. In addition, employers may defer or suspend bonuses and annual increments for employees, subject to some narrow exceptions.
- Paid Leave: Employers are prohibited from requiring employees to use paid time off during the lockdown. Employees, however, are entitled to use their accrued annual leave at their discretion, subject to internal policies. Employers cannot mandate that employees take unpaid leave.
- Medical Checks: Employers may take steps to verify employees’ health, as long as such measures protect the health, safety and well-being of other employees. Such steps include, for example, requiring medical check-ups for employees who have travelled internationally. If employers pursue such measures, they must ensure that they have systems in place to ensure that employees’ medical records remain confidential and secure. Employers should be mindful not to discriminate against employees by selecting employees for medical checks based upon race or nationality.
- Sick Time for Employees with COVID-19: Certain state governments have issued notifications/orders requiring employers to grant 28 days of paid leave to employees who have been infected with COVID-19. Employers may encourage, but not require, employees who have contracted COVID-19 to use their accrued sick leave. If necessary, employers may require COVID-19-positive employees to continue to take leave until such employees medically certify that they may return to work, during which time employers should continue to pay employees’ full wages and benefits.
We continue to monitor the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employers, and we will provide updates as new guidance and government directives are available.