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Does an employee have the right to refuse an assignment abroad?

20.03.2020


I work as a driver. My employee wants to send me on an assignment abroad (to Italy). Given the current news, I do not want to go there. Am I entitled to refuse? 

Before sending an employee abroad, the employer is obliged to organise a new risk assessment of the working environment for assignments abroad (if this is a frequent activity for employees) and to design and implement risk prevention measures in accordance with clause 13 (1) 5) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

In this situation, the employer must also take into account the prevention activities indicated in section 12¹ of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The employer’s prevention activity is the design and implementation of measures to prevent or reduce health risks at all stages of the company’s work and to promote the physical, mental, and social well-being of the employee. This means that the employer has to implement measures based on the following general principles of prevention:

  1. risk avoidance – i.e. not sending the employee to a risky area;
  2. assessment of unavoidable risks – i.e. the employer assesses whether the assignment abroad is absolutely necessary or, in view of the situation, cancels the assignment abroad;
  3. eliminating the risks at source or, if this is not possible, reducing them to an acceptable level – i.e. the employer withdraws the travel order.

If the employer does not do the above, they must consider the possibility that, upon returning from the assignment abroad, if the employee is infected with coronavirus, it is an occupational disease in accordance with subsection 3 (7) of Regulation No. 66 of the Minister of Social Affairs of 9 May 2005 ‘List of Occupational Diseases’. 

Under subsection 14 (5) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employee has the right to refuse to carry out work (in this case, an assignment abroad) or to stop the performance of work that would endanger their health or that of other persons or does not allow to comply with environmental safety requirements, promptly notifying the employer or the employer’s representative and a working environment representative thereof. 

In conclusion, travelling in the current situation means an increased risk of exposure to the virus. Where an assignment abroad is a frequent activity for employees, the employer should organise a risk assessment of the new working environment and, based on the risk assessment, propose measures to prevent and/or reduce the risks, design and implement measures to prevent or reduce risks to the employees’ health, and the employee has the right to refuse an assignment abroad if the assignment is dangerous to their health. If you are sent abroad, we recommend that you discuss what (additional) safety measures your employer has taken to protect your health (for example, avoiding contact when loading goods and delivering/receiving documents and using personal protective equipment (at gas stations)).

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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