LAW ON AMENDING AND SUPPLEMENTING THE LAW ON HEALTH
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO BUSINESS?
By virtue of a special issue 44th of the State Gazette dated 13 May 2020, the Law on Amending and Supplementing the Law on Health was promulgated (“the Law”). It regulates the measures against the spread of COVID-19 and main aspects of the social and economic life in the country after the end of the state of emergency, which lasted until 13 May 2020. The Law enters into force on 14 May 2020, with the exception of several explicitly stated provisions, which enter into force on the day of promulgation of the Law in the State Gazette.
The Law gives the right to the Minister of Healthcare to introduce by virtue of orders specific temporary anti-epidemic measures for the territory of the country or for a separate area.
Below we present a summary of the more important provisions of the Law and the orders of the Minister of Healthcare of 14 May 2020 , which affect business.
I. Regarding employment relations
An explicit text in the Law states that the right of employers to unilaterally introduce remote work and to grant up to one half of the annual paid leave of the employee is preserved for two months after the end of the state of emergency, i.e. until 14 July 2020. In addition, the Law provides for an amendment to the Labor Code, according to which employers have the right to introduce unilaterally work from home, part-time work, as well as to terminate the work in the enterprise, part of the enterprise or individual employees, not only in the event of a state of emergency, but also in the event of a state of emergency epidemic situation. Such is currently announced by virtue of a decision of the Council of Ministers for a period from 14 May to 14 June 2020.
As per the amendments to the Labour Code, the employer's right to unilaterally grant up to one-half of the paid annual leave is applicable to those employers who have suspended their activities due to the emergency epidemic situation. For the period of the emergency epidemic situation, the employer is obliged to allow the use of paid annual leave or unpaid leave at the request of certain categories of employees, such as a pregnant employee, an employee in advanced in vitro treatment, parents or adoptive parents of a child up to 12 years of age or of a child with a disability regardless of their age, an employee who has not reached the age of 18, an employee with permanently reduced working capacity of 50 and over 50 percent, etc.
Order № RD-01-262/14.05.2020 of the Minister of Healthcare introduces new and clarifies existing obligations of employers with regard to the introduction of remote work, rules for work from the employer's office (in case introduction of remote work is not possible), rules for customer service, including an algorithm of disinfection measures at workplaces, in commercial and other sites that provide services to citizens. The Order provides specific anti-epidemic measures which are mandatory for all employers who own or manage sites with public purpose, commercial or other facilities that provide services to citizens and whose activity is not suspended by an act of state authority during the declared emergency epidemic situation.
The Law expressly provides that unpaid leave up to 60 working days used by employees in 2020 shall be considered work experience.
Also, an explicit text indicates a specific period for which the state shall pay compensation to employers for part of the insurance income and social security contributions for employees, known as the measure “60/40”, namely – for the period 13 March – 30 June 2020, but for a period not exceeding three months.
II. Regarding visits to retail and other public sites
By virtue of Order № RD-01-263/14.05.2020, the Minister of Healthcare extended the prohibition to visit certain retail sites until 14 June 2020. Such sites are entertainment and gaming halls; bars; discos; indoor retail spaces of restaurants, cafes and confectioneries; shopping centers type – Mall. For the latter, a definition is given according to which the prohibition applies to indoor establishments in which shops, restaurants, entertainment centers and/or offices connected to common pedestrian areas are located, with the exception of banking and insurance offices, payment service providers, food shops, pharmacies and drugstores, in them, as well as restaurants, with an outdoor area and a separate external entrance.
The ban on mass sports events in outdoor and indoor places (sport centers, gyms, clubs, etc.) continues. Visiting sports and children playgrounds facilities in indoor public places and carrying out any form of group activity with children and students other than pre-school and school education are forbidden. Children's visits to nurseries and kindergartens are suspended.
It is forbidden to hold mass cultural and entertainment events indoors (theaters, concerts, stage events, etc.), except for visits to museums, libraries, galleries and cinemas, with an allowed occupancy of up to 30% of the total seat capacity.
The ban on persons under visible age under 60 to visit grocery stores and pharmacies between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. is continued.
Activities which have not been suspended or banned should be carried out in strict compliance with the anti-epidemic measures specified in Order № RD-01-262/14.05.2020.
III. Regarding the continuation of certain reliefs after the end of the state of emergency
According to the Law, some of the reliefs for citizens and businesses valid for the period of the state of emergency will be maintained for a period of two months after its end, i.e. until 14 July 2020. Such are, for example: the suspension of all announced public sales and takeovers against individuals, the prohibition on the attachment of bank accounts of individuals, the ability to reduce the amount of rent and for tenants or users of state or municipal property, etc.
Again for a period of two months after the end of the state of emergency, in case of delay in payment of obligations of private entities, debtors under credit agreements and other forms of financing provided by financial institutions under Art. 3 of the Credit Institutions Act, with the exception of the bank's subsidiaries, including when the receivables have been acquired by banks, financial institutions or third parties, no interest for delay and penalties shall be accrued, as the obligation cannot be declared prematurely due and the contract cannot be terminated due to non-performance.
According to the Law, for a period of up to 6 months after the end of the state of emergency, the Employment Agency shall pay compensation in the amount of BGN 290 for certain categories of persons subject to insurance under the Social Insurance Code, according to criteria and conditions to be determined by an act of the Council of Ministers. The funds shall be transferred by bank transfer to the respective insurer/self-insured person and shall be at the expense of funds from the European Structural and Investment Funds.
IV. Regarding entering the country and quarantining
The Law provides the possibility for the Minister of Healthcare to introduce a ban on entering the country for foreign citizens, except for citizens with permanent or long-term residence on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, as well as members of their families. There is also a possibility for introduction of temporary restriction of movement on the territory of the country, as well as temporary suspension or restriction in the operation of public facilities and/or other facilities or services provided to citizens. By virtue of the prescription of the director of the respective regional health inspection or an official authorized by them, a mandatory quarantine may be imposed on persons who have entered the territory of the country from other countries. Contact persons may not refuse to be testes for COVID-19.
By virtue of Order № RD-01-265/14.05.2020, the Minister of Healthcare introduced a ban on entering the territory of the country through all border crossings, by road, air, sea and rail. Exceptions to the ban are explicitly listed and include Bulgarian citizens and members of their families, citizens of the European Union and members of their families in certain cases, seasonal agricultural and tourism workers, transport staff, medical professionals, people travelling due to humanitarian reasons, etc. The Order also regulates the conditions for transit through the country, and the rules for imposing a 14-day quarantine to persons who entered the country.
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