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Can parents stay home with their children if schools are closed?

17.03.2020


Question: I am the owner of a small enterprise; my employees notified me today that they will not be coming to work for the next two weeks in connection with the emergency situation and the fact that schools and nursery schools are closed and they cannot leave their children on their own. Is an employee entitled to do so and am I required to pay their wages for this period and in what extent?


Response by Meeli Miidla-Vanatalu, Deputy Director General of the Labour Inspectorate: The current situation may be approached as the case described in section 38 of the Employment Contracts Act, in the case of which the legislator has prescribed that the employer must pay the employee average wages for a reasonable period when the employee cannot perform work due to a reason arising from the employee, but not caused intentionally or due to severe negligence or if the employee cannot be expected to perform work for another reason not attributable to the employee. However, this situation may not last two weeks, but for a reasonable period of time in which the employee can organise babysitting for their children and make their suggestions to the employer for potential changes in the organisation of work.


This means that, pursuant to section 38 of the Employment Contracts Act, the employer must pay the employee’s average wages for no more than the first two days and then the parties must find mutually acceptable solutions, that is, reach a mutual agreement for teleworking, using part-time employment for a specified period of time, or using the employee’s annual holiday, for example, or in another manner. The employee may not, however, pursuant to legislation, demand payment of their average wages by the employer for the entire period in which they remain at home due to closing of a children’s institution. The parties of the employment relationship must adequately assess the situation in the country, while also taking into account the other party’s interests and thereby find reasonable solutions.


Further advice regarding children from the Ministry of Social Affairs:

  • The state has not established specific regulation regarding the minimum age at which a child may be left home alone. Each case is different and depends on the maturity of the child and the circumstances.
  • The parent must decide whether or not to temporarily leave their child home alone. Thereat, the parent must take into consideration the child’s best interests, assess the maturity of their child, and consider any potential safety risks. It is important to ensure the welfare and safety of the child.
  • In general, a child’s ability to act independently to a certain extent (the child can take responsibility for their actions; knows what may be good or bad for their health and how to behave safely; is able to take care of themselves) is connected to the preparedness to go to school. Leaving pre-school or younger children home alone should be avoided, as well as leaving them home in the care of a schoolchild for the entire day. In the case of leaving smaller children in the care of their older sisters and brothers, it should be made sure that the needs of all of the children are satisfied and that all of the children feel safe and secure.
  • If necessary, it might be a good idea to ask family members (not older people, if possible) to take care of the children or to ask the local municipality government about the opening times of nursery schools or childcare institutions, etc. People should also contact their local municipality governments if their families need any other assistance or aid in connection with the emergency situation.

Read more:

An overview of the articles about the coronavirus on Tööelu.

Frequently asked questions in connection with the coronavirus (teleworking, business trips abroad, lay-offs, holiday without pay).

Photo: Pixabay

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