1. What options do employers have and/or what are you seeing in terms of re-opening the workplace e.g. phased returns, rotating shifts, staggered working hours, etc.?
Yes, all these options are possible. There are no legal provisions in this respect, so employers are free to choose the best solution for the company. Still, it is advisable not to bring all employees back to the office at the same time, but to proceed step by step until everyone has become accustomed to the new situation and protective measures. Rotating shifts are also an option, for example for employees in open-plan offices. Professional activity should preferably take place outside the workplace if this is possible and employer and employee agree on this.
2. Does an employer have to give notice to employees to return to the workplace?
Yes – the employees should be informed as soon as possible in order to ensure a smooth process.
3. Is an employer obliged to consult with employees/representatives about the return to work process?
No, generally there is no requirement to consult with employees or the works council. Still, the works council should also be informed in good time for the sake of good cooperation.
4. Are there any requirements or recommendations for employees to wear or employers to provide masks or other protective equipment in the workplace?
Due to the duty of care, the employer must ensure that the risk of infection among employees, but also between the employees and other persons in the company, such as customers, suppliers or guests, is as low as possible. The employer must ensure that a distance of at least one metre can be maintained between employees or other persons and employees unless the risk of infection can be minimised by appropriate protective measures. As such, employers are obliged to take appropriate protective measures at the workplace and give appropriate instructions to the employees.
Appropriate protective measures include hygiene measures. Employers should ensure that dispensers of disinfectants or adequate soaps are available so employees can regularly disinfect their hands. All equipment used by several employees should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. This includes, for example, door handles or operating parts of machines and toilet facilities.
The employer can provide protective masks (mouth and nose protector) as appropriate protective measures, but there is no obligation to do so.
The obligation to wear protective masks (mouth and nose protection) at the workplace, if not already mandatory due to other regulations (e.g. in shops ), must be agreed between employer and the employee. Employees should be instructed to regularly disinfect and wash their hands, to use protective aids and how to use them.
Please be aware that this reflects the current legal situation, which is constantly changing at the moment.
5. When can business travel resume and what are the key considerations for employers?
If the employee is obliged to travel under to the employment agreement and if there is no travel warning of the Foreign Ministry for the respective area, the employee is generally not entitled to refuse to go on that business trip. However, the interests of the employer and the employee must be weighed up, taking into account the specific circumstances of the individual case.
6. If schools remain closed, can working parents continue to work from home?
If care obligations arise as a result of school closures, there are usually no circumstances that would justify a care leave under the Austrian Holidays Act. In cases of particular hardship, there could be a reason for a paid leave, but its duration would probably be limited to one week according to case law.
According to the COVID law recently enacted by Parliament, the employer can grant employees affected by the closure of such facilities up to three weeks of paid leave, known as special care leave. These three weeks can be granted in one go, but – if agreed – also on a daily or even hourly basis.
The employee must use this paid free time to look after their children up to the age of 14 years or people with disabilities for whom they are responsible. The employer continues to pay the employee's salary and is entitled to reimbursement of one-third of the salary. The reimbursement must be claimed from the Federal Accounting Agency within six weeks of the day on which the respective care facility is reopened.
There is no statutory entitlement to continue to work from home if not agreed. If it is technically possible, it still makes sense that these employees remain working at home.