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The effects of the Emergency Powers Act on employment relationship

The Finnish Government passed the commissioning decree for the Emergency Powers Act to Parliament on 17 March 2020. The Emergency Powers Act and the commissioning decrees related thereto will remain in force for a fixed period until 13 April 2020. Competent authorities will enforce the decisions in accordance with their powers. By virtue of the Emergency Powers Act, the Council of State passed on 17 March 2020 a decree concerning working hours, annual holidays and period of notice when an employee gives a notice of termination.

The provisions of the Emergency Powers Act and the commissioning decree concern employees working in health care, social services, rescue services, emergency centre operations, and police. The provisions on compulsory work orders only concern the health care sector and persons with health care education. If a person is working in those branches, the Emergency Powers Act and the commissioning decree may have effects on such person’s employment relationship.

What is the Emergency Powers Act?

The purpose of the Emergency Powers Act is to protect the population and secure its livelihood and the national economy in emergency conditions. The definition of emergency conditions includes e.g. a dangerous communicable disease with particularly serious consequences comparable to a major accident that has spread widely. The coronavirus has been considered to fulfil that definition.

The Emergency Powers Act prescribes about the obligation to work in emergency conditions. The authorities can then issue a compulsory work order to a person, and complying with the order is mandatory. The Emergency Powers Act is used to increase the resources of the public sector, and resources of the private sector will be overtaken by the public sector, if necessary. At the same time, non-urgent functions will be reduced.

The provision of the Emergency Powers Act and the commissioning decree and the decrees issued by virtue thereof also allow for exceptions in job descriptions, overtime and annual holidays. It is only permitted to use the powers for the purposes that are necessary for reaching the purpose of the Emergency Powers Act. The principle of proportionality shall also be complied with in the use of the powers i.e. the powers have to be in just relation to the goal.

To whom can a compulsory work order be issued?

According to the Emergency Powers Act, everyone living in Finland who works in the health care branch, has received health care education, and is at least 18 years old but has not turned 68, is obliged to perform necessary work in health care services. Compulsory work orders only concern the health care branch, and the commissioning decree also allows for using the work contribution of students close to graduation.

As a general rule, a compulsory work order cannot be issued to a person who works in a public office or position or whose work contribution is needed at the service of such a public or private institution or company, the continuing of whose operations is necessary in emergency conditions for the implementation of the purposes of the Emergency Powers Act. For a specific reason, such as special training or language skills, it is also possible to issue a compulsory work order to a person working in a position like that.

If the person appeals to not being able to perform the work determined in the compulsory work order for reasons of health, they shall present a reliable account on their state of health to the authorities. The employment authorities shall set a reasonable deadline for submitting the account. As a general rule, a reliable account is a doctor’s statement on the person’s state of health. Regarding persons with partial disability, a compulsory work order can be issued as a part-time work order.

A compulsory work order cannot be issued to a person on family leave or a person who has at home a child in need of constant care, and the care of the child cannot be organised otherwise. Alternation leave, study leave, leave of absence or other absence from work do not prevent the issuing of a compulsory work order.

For how long a period can a compulsory work order be issued?

A compulsory work order can be issued for a maximum of two weeks at a time. The order can be renewed once.

Can a compulsory work order be issued to take place in another town?

By virtue of a compulsory work order, a person can be ordered to work in another town than the one where they live or normally work. It is not permitted to issue a compulsory work order outside the commuting area to a custodian of a child under 7 or a child who is permanently/chronically ill. It is only permitted to deviate from that for specific reasons.

How is a compulsory work order issued?

The employment authorities serve the summons to the person by post or as a general notification in which case the summons can be viewed in a public data network. A health care professional who has been summoned is obliged to register with the employment authorities in the town where they live or stay which will then issue the compulsory work order.

What kinds of work tasks can a compulsory work order concern?

A compulsory work order can only concern such work that the person is able to reasonably perform, taking into account their age, state of health, family relations, education, previous work experience, and the nature of work. A person cannot be ordered to perform tasks for which they do not have education or in which they have no previous work experience.

The compulsory work order issued by the employment authorities shall include the address of the workplace, duties, and the date when the person has to take on the obliged work.

It is the employer’s responsibility to find out what pharmaceutical treatment duties the person can perform. The employer’s orders and instructions on the implementation of pharmaceutical treatment shall be complied with. The employer shall also take care of sufficient familiarisation of the person.

How are the terms of employment for work performed on the basis of a compulsory work order determined?

The terms of an employment obligation relationship based on a compulsory work order, for instance salary and working hours, shall be determined in accordance with the civil servants’ collective agreement or general collective agreement that binds the employer. If there is no applicable collective agreement, regular and reasonable salary shall be paid to the person.

What happens to the employee’s employment relationship during the compulsory work order?

Despite the compulsory work order, the person’s private or public sector employment relationship continues without interruptions during the compulsory work order. The work performed on the basis of a compulsory work order shall be considered comparable to work, and thus it also accumulates the employee’s annual holiday. The employee is entitled to return to their previous job.

What consequences may result if the person fails to comply with the compulsory work order?

If the person fails to comply with the compulsory work order issued by virtue of the Emergency Powers Act or violates the terms of the compulsory work order, the person can be sentenced to pay a fine for violation of the Emergency Powers Act, unless a more severe punishment is prescribed elsewhere in the law.

Can the current employer order the employee to work overtime?

The Government decree gives the employers operating in health care, social services, rescue services, emergency centre operations or police the opportunity to deviate from the provision of the Working Hours Act that concern overtime. Thus it is possible to increase the statutory maximum duration of overtime, and overtime work can be commissioned without the employee’s consent. The employee’s health and occupational safety must not be endangered, however.

Can the employer deviate from rest periods?

The Government decree gives the employers operating in health care, social services, rescue services, emergency centre operations or police the opportunity to deviate from the provision of the Working Hours Act that concern rest periods. It is possible to decrease the statutory rest periods of employees. The employee’s health and occupational safety must not be endangered, however. Furthermore, the employer shall organise social facilities suited to rest and recreation and food supply at the workplace.

Is it possible to change the work shift list by virtue of the Emergency Powers Act?

The Emergency Powers Act and the commissioning decree do not give the employer the right to change a confirmed work shift list. The employer may only adjust a confirmed work shift list by the employee’s consent or for a good reason. Unexpected absences from work due to the coronavirus may, case by case, generate a good reason to adjust the work shift list.

How does the Emergency Powers Act affect the employee’s annual holiday?

The Government decree gives the employers operating in health care, social services, rescue services, emergency centre operations or police the opportunity to deviate from the provision of the Annual Holidays Act that concern granting annual holiday. The employer is not obliged to grant the remaining annual holiday before the start of the next holiday period. The employer can also deviate from the provisions concerning the announcement period of holiday (1 month or 14 days). The decree will be valid until 13 April 2020. If the period of validity of the decree is extended, it may also affect the employee’s coming summer holidays.

Can the employer cancel agreed annual holiday?

The Government decree gives the employers operating in health care, social services, rescue services, emergency centre operations or police the opportunity to change the dates of confirmed annual holiday.

Can the employer interrupt annual holiday?

The Government decree gives the employers operating in health care, social services, rescue services, emergency centre operations or police the opportunity to interrupt annual holiday that has started.

Can the employer limit the employee’s right to give a notice of termination?

The Emergency Powers Act gives the opportunity to limit the right of the employees to give a notice of termination in health care, social services, rescue services and emergency centre operations during emergency conditions. By virtue of the Emergency Powers Act, the Government has issued a decree according to which if an employee gives a notice of termination, the employee can extend the period notice to be complied with to four months. Extending the period of notice shall be necessary for the health care services, minimum livelihood or safety of the population.

Katja Halonen, Attorney, Master of Laws trained on the bench, M.Sc. (Econ.), Teperi & Co Oy

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