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COVID-19 | What impact the pandemic has on your workplace

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Dealing with the work-from-home directives

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a “pandemic” on March 11, 2020 following which the Government announced a nation-wide lock-down from March 24, 2020 till April 14, 2020. The sudden outbreak of the pandemic has reminded how people and global businesses are very closely connected.

Every organization, big or small, is trying their best to ensure minimum disruption in their operations. The Government has also taken several initiatives by publishing guidelines, notifications, regulations to address unprecedented issues faced by organizations, businesses including employee related issues.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment, by a notification dated March 20, 2020, has earnestly requested all the Employers of Public/ Private Establishments to extend their cooperation by not terminating their employees, particularly casual or contractual workers from job or reduce their wages. If any workers take leave, such worker should be deemed to be on duty without any consequential deduction in wages. Additionally, if the place of employment is made non-operational due to the pandemic, the employees of such unit will be deemed to be on duty. Click here to access the notification.

The only exceptions to the WFH Directive

Barring certain services, the Government has directed that all other services should operate on work from home ("WFH") basis only. For the duration of the lock-down, other than certain Central and State Government entities all other private commercial and industrial establishments across sectors are to be closed with the only exceptions being:

  • Shops, including ration shops (under PDS), dealing with food, groceries, fruits and vegetables, dairy and milk booths, meat and fish, animal fodder. However, district authorities may encourage and facilitate home delivery and minimize the movement of individuals outside.

  • Banks, insurance offices and ATMs.

  • Print and electronic media.

  • Telecommunications, IT services etc.

  • Delivery of all essential goods including food, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment through e-commerce.

  • Petrol pumps, LPG, Petroleum and gas retail and storage outlets.

  • Power generation, transmission

  • Capital and debt market services as notified by SEBI

  • Cold storage and warehousing services

  • Public security services

  • All industrial establishments to remain closed except:

  • Manufacturing units of essential commodities

  • Production units, which require continuous process, after obtaining required permission from state government.

All the above entities except medical establishments need to run with minimum number of employees. The lock down guidelines can be accessed here and here.

What are some of the basic obligations of employers at this time?

Work from home is a preventive measure to tackle the pandemic across the globe and that is being implemented across organizations today to keep their business running amid the crisis.

On 29th March, 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an order directing all the employers, be it in the Industry or in the shops and commercial establishments to make payment of wages of their workers, at their workplaces, on the due date, without any deduction, for the period their establishments are under closure during the lockdown. Based on this order, it is recommended that all employers should pay their employees their full salaries despite operations being closed.

Even under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, if an employer is unable to provide work to its workmen, it may lay-off its workmen provided all the other statutory requirements of lay off are met like payment of 50% of their salary throughout such period. A statutory notice of 21 days has to be given to the workers in case there is any change in employment conditions.

Apart from the lockdown, employers must also maintain a rigid travel policy in compliance with the guidelines issued by the Bureau of Immigration. If there are any foreign nationals employed in the organization, their visas will remain valid for the time being. The employers can help them contact their nearest FRRO/FRO through e-FRRO module for extension/ conversion etc. of their visa or grant of any consular service. Visa services granted on account of COVID-19 are GRATIS.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this Article provides a general overview on the subject matter and does not substitute for professional legal advice. Employers should consult with counsel for latest developments and updated guidelines on this topic.

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