Labor law consequences of the termination of the emergency anti-epidemic situation

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With a Decision of the National Assembly of March 13, 2020, a state of emergency was declared on the entire territory of the Republic of Bulgaria until April 13, 2020, and with a Decision of April 3, 2020, it was extended until May 13, 2020.

An emergency epidemic situation was declared on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria by Decision of the Council of Ministers № 325 of 14 May 2020. It has been extended several times, the last extension being introduced until 31 March 2022 by Decision № 826 of the Council of Ministers of 25 November 2021.

The media reported that the government has decided not to extend the epidemic situation in the country due to COVID-19. This means that a number of legal provisions introduced by the state of emergency and the epidemic emergency will be changed from 1 April 2022 onwards.

According to Art. 63, para. 4 of the Health Act “In case of a state of emergency, […] the Minister of Health introduces by order temporary anti-epidemic measures […] for the territory of the country or for a separate area.” This means that the previous orders of the Minister of Health introduced anti-epidemic measures for the territory of the country (or for individual areas), will cease to have effect, as the grounds for their issuance and implementation will be eliminated, namely – the emergency epidemic situation.

I. In this regard, a number of legal situations introduced by the state of emergency and the epidemic situation (SE / ES) will be eliminated, including, but not limited to, changes concerning teleworking. The consequences in this regard would be different for different employers, depending on how the remote work regime is introduced in the particular company:

1) During the declared state of emergency / epidemic situation there was a legal possibility for the employer to unilaterally assign the employees without their consent to perform teleworking and / or work entirely from a distance for the duration of the SE / ES (Art. 120b, para 1 of the Labor Code), even in the cases when the Rules for internal labor order and the labor contracts of the enterprise have not provided a mechanism for work in mixed mode or distance work so far. This was done by order of the employer.

  • After the end of the declared state of emergency / epidemic situation, there are no grounds for such unilateral introduction of remote work. In case it is decided that the employees will be able to work remotely / in a mixed mode of work in the future, the employer should introduce this possibility by amending the Rules for internal labor order and to conclude or additional agreements to already concluded with the employees for whom the new regime of remote working / mixed work regime will be applied (art. 107h, para. 3 and 4 of the Labor Code).
  • Similarly, in enterprises with a mixed mode of operation introduced before SE / ES, after the end of the declared state of emergency / epidemic situation, the mechanisms for operation in mixed mode provided in the Rules for internal labor order will be applied again. applied before the SE / ES.
  • For companies that during the SE / ES have concluded employment contracts and additional agreements with employees working entirely remotely, the elimination of an emergency epidemic situation will not lead to a change in the work regime. In the event that an employer in such a situation wishes its employees to work on the company’s premises, it will have to enter into additional agreements with employees to change the regime of work and workplace.

2) As an additional consequence of the elimination of the possibility for unilateral introduction of remote work are the changes concerning the presence of employees in the premises of the employer:

During the declared state of emergency / emergency situation: Employers and appointing authorities were obliged to organize the work process of employees in remote form (teleworking and / or work entirely from a distance), where possible, and could allow on-site work of at most 50% of the staff.

  • After the end of the declared state of emergency / emergency situation: Employers are no longer obliged to limit the number of employees present on their premises.

II. On 24.03.2022 a draft law amending the Health Act was submitted to the Parliament, which proposes to create a legal opportunity after the abolition of the declared epidemic, when necessary, the Minister of Health on the proposal of the Chief State Health Inspector to be able to impose anti-epidemic measures for the territory of the whole country or for a separate district for a certain period of time.

It is expected that next week, at the legislative level, proposals for workable solutions will be considered after the end of the declared epidemic emergency situation, which will come into force retroactively, namely – from 01.04.2022.

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