At this difficult time, European countries are implementing various solutions to protect jobs in times of pandemic.
Teleworking / Home office work
Employers are encouraged to enable their employees to work remotely in industries where this is possible. In some countries, home office work is not explicitly regulated by the law, though highly recommended by the government. In some cases employers are entitled to unilaterally (i.e. without seeking employee’s consent) instruct employees to work from home. In Belgium telework is promoted through a change in taxation – French and German cross-border commuters are allowed to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic without being taxed in their countries of origin. In addition, Belgian companies may apply for state aid towards investing in tools to enable their employees to work from home.
Many states offer financial support to employers deciding to retain staff despite reduced demand for workers, via the launching of employment support schemes.
In Austria, for example, employers facing economic difficulties and temporary reductions of normal working time may request the State to compensate for lost working hours due to short-time working schemes (‘Kurzarbeit’). This compensation amounts to 80% - 90% of the previous net remuneration. Also, employees in Covid-19 at-risk groups unable to work from home may request unpaid leave. In such case, their lost salaries, including social insurance contributions, are compensated by the State.
In Belgium, a temporary unemployment scheme is also available. Businesses or sectors that are severely affected by the crisis may count on an unemployment allowance of 70% of the gross monthly salary (capped at around €2,700).
The French government has set up a short-time working scheme to preserve jobs. Employers have to cover 70% of the current employee’s remuneration, but the state reimburses 60% of the amount paid to the employee (capped at around €6,900 per month).
In Germany, employers may apply a short-time working scheme, which means a reduction of working time and corresponding reduction of the salary. The gap in the salary may be subsidised by the State with a short-time work allowance, the so called Kurzarbeitgeld (KuG). KuG reimburses from 60% for employees without children to 67% for employees with children and is now extended until the end of December 2021, with the added benefit of social security contributions being reimbursed to the employer until the end of June 2021. This longer-term support for employers will certainly contribute more efficiently to maintaining jobs.
There are a number of other job preservation solutions being used in European countries, including:
• Grace periods for the payment of social security contributions
• Extension/temporary suspensions of the deadlines for tax or social security contributions payment
• Reduction of, or release from, social security contributions
• Reduction of rent for publicly-owned premises
• Employers’ right to reduce working time and pay pro-rata decreased salaries
• The limit of maximum working hours may be increased for employers operating in sectors particularly necessary for national security
• Longer working-time frames
• Temporary reduction of salaries in case of a decline in sales and services
• Partial unemployment (for example by reducing employee’s working hours or introducing the part-time regime without change of employment status)
• State financial support for employees unable to work due to quarantine, childcare, or business closure due to government restrictions and quarantine
• Legal ban on collective dismissal procedures (for example in Italy)
• Limitations on dismissals by employers while receiving state subsidies
• Jobswitch – a contact platform aimed to connect the unemployed and staff in partial unemployment with companies in need of labour
• Parental leave subsidies due to closure of educational units and on-line schooling
How does Poland compare with other European countries?
Many of the solutions used in other European countries are also available to Polish employers. The so-called Anti-Crisis Shield has been introduced to support Polish businesses affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. This includes certain solutions which might be considered by employers facing difficulties due to Covid-19.
In particular the following options are available:
State subsidies: Companies may apply for subsidies towards the salaries of employees (and persons engaged under civil-law contracts) financed by the Guaranteed Employee Benefits Fund (a special-purpose public fund). The subsidy is available for a maximum of three months following the month of submission. One of the requirements is a decline in turnover, understood as a decrease (in terms of volume or value) in the sales of goods or services by at least 15% when comparing two consecutive calendar months in 2020 to the same period in 2019, or by at least 25% based on a month-to-month change in 2020. In case of an economic downtime the employer may apply for a state subsidy that amounts to 50% of the national minimum salary. Employers suffering a decrease in turnover may reduce their workers’ working hours by a maximum of 20%, however to not less than 0.5 FTE, which results in salaries reduction on a pro-rata basis. In this case, the subsidy amounts to 50% of the reduced salary, but not more than 2,438.37 zlotys gross (around €567 gross). The subsidies are intended to protect jobs. Therefore, those employers applying for state subsidies are not allowed to terminate contracts with subsidied workers for reasons not attributable to the workers during the period of the subsidy. This means that the possibility of employment restructuring may be blocked for a maximum of three months (i.e. the three months when the subsidy is received).
More flexible working time and changes in employment conditions: Employers facing a drop in turnover as a result of Covid-19 may introduce solutions to make working time and employment conditions more flexible. This however requires an agreement with trade unions or, in the absence of trade unions, with employee representatives. The agreement may relate to introducing an equivalent working-time system which allows daily working time to be extended, but no more than up to 12 hours in a settlement period not exceeding 12 months (with the extended daily working time being counterbalanced by a shorter daily working time on certain days or by non-working days), or applying employment conditions less favourable to employees than those arising from their employment contracts.
Temporary abolition of the deferment fee in respect of social insurance contributions: Businesses do not have to pay the deferment fee for payment of ZUS contributions due for the period from 1 January 2020, provided that such payment in instalments or deferment is requested during the state of epidemic threat/state of epidemic, or within 30 days following cancellation thereof.
When comparing Polish job support schemes for employers with solutions available in other European countries, it is evident that the support offered to Polish employers falls well below that offered by Poland’s close neighbours, and may be insufficient in terms of both the amounts of funding and the duration of support. Consequently, many companies most affected by the pandemic-related restrictions may face the need to reduce their staff level in the coming months. To counterbalance this, the Polish support programme should be extended to meet the needs of employers, especially in sectors particularly affected by the restrictions. It is also necessary to develop a comprehensive programme which would facilitate not only the protection of jobs, but also stimulate the recovery of the labour market once the pandemic is over.