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This article is written by Jasmine Madaan, from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS). This is an exhaustive article that describes the rights of employees during the lockdown and various measures taken by the government and corporations to guard them.

Introduction

The petrifying situation caused by COVID-19 has raised various questions in the minds of people. With every new announcement by the authorities comes various questions. People are concerned about their jobs, families, health, etc. But the main question is: what are the legal protections that the employees have? The article will provide details about the rights of employees during this pandemic situation.

Rights of Employees 

All the employees have certain rights which are provided to them by the Indian law. There are various statutes specifically made for employees, some of them are Equal Remuneration Act, 1976; Payment of Gratuity Act,1972; The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013;  The Maternity Benefit Act, 2017; Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948

The world has turned to digital environments more than ever. Except for the urgent ones, all other kinds of work are being conducted by the employees and employers from their respective homes while self-quarantining. 

Even during the lockdown, all the laws remain the same. Some of the common rights are mentioned below:

  • An employment agreement is a must. It contains all the terms and conditions of the employment, rights and duties of employee and employer. The document also contains the mechanism to be followed in case of a dispute. It is to be signed before joining and the main objective of an employment agreement is to have a written proof of the pre-decided factors to avoid any discrepancy.  
  • Every employee has the right to receive their salary on time. The Payment of Wages Act, 1936 makes it necessary for the employers to provide salary on time to the employees. One rule is that every person irrespective of their caste, sex, age, creed, etc. must be paid equally. Article 39(d) of the Indian Constitution provides that there should be no discrimination in the amount of salary based on gender and the Equal Remuneration Act provides this rule.
  • Article 42 of the Indian Constitution provides that it is the duty of all the states to make provisions to ensure that employees get to work in workable and humane conditions and the female employees also get maternity benefits.
  • Every employee has the right to take leaves. They can be of different types:
    • Sick leave- when a person takes a leave due to some health issues then it is called sick leave. Usually one has to submit a medical certificate duly signed by a doctor to the HR department. Sick leaves of an employee are fixed in numbers. 
    • Casual leave- When one has to take a leave due to some urgent work or some other reason, it is called a casual leave.
    • Paid leave- There are certain fixed number of paid leaves in which the salary of the employee is not deducted.
    • Other leaves- These are the non-paid leaves. The amount to be deducted is decided by the company and is usually mentioned in the job agreement.
  • If an employee who has worked minimum for 5 years in a specific company retires, resigns, dies, or is terminated even during the lockdown she/he is entitled to receive gratuity amount as per Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972
  • If an employee’s job is being terminated, he/she has to serve a notice period. Employers can’t terminate an employee without issuing a notice period. 
  • Every woman is entitled to receive 26 weeks of paid leave during and/or after delivery as per The Maternity Benefit Act, 2017. Even male employees are also given paid leaves so that they can take care of their newborn but in private jobs, it is at the discretion of the employer/company. An employee can’t be dismissed from the job due to pregnancy.
  • As per  Employees’ Provident Funds & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, employees and employers have to contribute 12% of the basic salary. The amount is deposited to the Provident fund accounts which are maintained by Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). 
  • It is to be ensured by the employer that no employee is sexually harassed at the workplace. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 protects women from such acts and makes it necessary for a company to have prohibition of sexual harassment policy and an internal redressal committee to deal with such matters.
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Protection of Interests

When the lockdown was announced, many employees were worried about their jobs, be it a blue-collar job worker or a white-collar one. Many people feared that they might be sacked from their jobs but with the government’s announcement things started to get clearer and employees began to have a sense of security about their jobs.

Government of India and the government of various states have shown high concern for the working-class people. Some of the important points are mentioned below:

  • During the lockdown, only establishments who are exempted by the Central or State Government can remain open. Employees of these establishments should have a pass or letter with them which will allow them to travel to work during the lockdown. The employers and employees must make sure that all the necessary precautions prescribed by the health ministry and the World Health Organization are adhered to.
  • During the lockdown, companies can ask their employees to work from home and during that time they have to be paid full salaries. 
  • A major question that arises whether employees who can’t work from home will be paid during the lockdown? The answer is that yes employers have to pay such workers during the pandemic. 
    • On March 21, 2020, the Central government issued a circular which provides that even if the work unit is non-functional due to COVID-19 the workers of that unit will be deemed to be working. Various State Governments have also issued a circular stating that such workers need to be paid. 
    • Maharashtra government also mentioned that no employer can terminate or deduct the salary of the employee especially of contract or casual workers. 
    • On March 29, 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular notifying all the State Governments and ministries to ensure that the employers of all the industries, shops, companies, etc. pay full wages to the employees without any deductions, during the lockdown. 
  • Employees cannot be asked to use their accrued annual leaves as it can be used on the discretion of the employee. Companies can encourage the employee to use the accrued annual leaves but cannot force them to do so. As an employee gets cash based on the unavailed accrued annual leaves when he/she ceases to work at the company. 
  • If an employee had gone on a work-related trip and now he/she feels the need to self-quarantine then such employee cannot be forced to use his/her sick leaves. State Governments have issued orders/ notifications asking people who have a travel history or have come in contact with the infected person to self-quarantine for 14 to 28 days. Karnataka and UP governments have issued notifications stating that employees who have contacted COVID-19 are to be paid during the leaves. 
  • An employee can be asked to submit his/her medical test reports online but the employer has to ensure that he/she complies to the cyber laws to protect the data. Rules of Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Information Technology(Reasonable Security and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 need to be followed as per which the consent of the employee would be necessary if the information is to be used further.
  • Employers cannot reduce the working hours and consequently the wages of the workers to absorb a loss to the business. Employers cannot even reduce the workforce to protect the business from the impact of COVID-19. Both such acts are prohibited by the notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 29 March 2020.
  • If an employee gets infected by the coronavirus due to coming to work or going on a work-related trip then the employee can file a tortious claim against the employer for damages.
  • Employers have to keep in mind that the number of working hours should not exceed their regular working hours. Since there is no statute to govern the concept of work from home therefore general employment laws will be applicable.
  • Recently the Ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship has announced that the Union government will reimburse 25% of the stipend amount which is to be given to apprentices deployed in different industries. The number of apprentices is 240,000. 
  • It has also asked the companies that during the lockdown the full stipend amount of apprentices should not be deducted. The step was taken because it was felt that in the previous circular issued on March 29 inclusion of apprentices was not clear.

Many leading companies are giving assurance about jobs and salaries to their employees through different methods. TATA steel has given assurance to all its employees that salaries will be provided to them on time. Various law firms in India have provided early bonuses to their employees to keep their employees motivated.

For a detailed situation of COVID-19 in different states, one can refer to https://www.azbpartners.com/covid-19-updates-march-23-2020/.

                     

How does the Crisis affect their Work?

COVID-19 has drastically disrupted the demand and supply chain not just across the country but also across the entire world. The stock market has draconianly crashed, various factories have shut down. It was suggested by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that India’s trade impact due to COVID-19 would be around US $348 million. There are many sectors where working from home is not feasible at all this includes manufacturing units, field related work, etc. Certain sectors are having a hard time opting for work from home culture. This includes the banking sector or any sector where data to be shared is highly confidential and needs to be protected. 

A drastic impact on business is obvious to cause a disturbance in the jobs of employees. Many migrant workers are being forced to leave cities and go back to their villages. Even though the government is taking various steps to protect the migrant workers from starvation but the situation remains tough.

Various sectors like airlines, malls, retailers, import-export businesses, manufacturing, etc. are at high risk of facing serious losses and in such a crisis when the business is being hit drastically, it is bound to have its impact being felt in future on the jobs of the employees.

Conclusion

COVID-19 has turned out to be a nightmare for the entire world. The Health Ministry, the World Health Organization, etc. have issued various guidelines regarding the ways to stay protected from the coronavirus. The government is taking the necessary steps to protect the interest of various groups of people from employers to employees. The main objective is to protect the national interest. Employers must keep in mind the rights of the employees and ensure that they are not violated in any manner. A polite reminder for everybody out there, keep reading, keep gaining knowledge, be aware and be wise. In these tough times, we all need to stand together because no matter what humanity should prevail.

References

  1. https://www.azbpartners.com/bank/coping-with-covid-19-faqs-for-indian-employers/
  2. https://www.peoplematters.in/article/talent-management/impact-of-covid-19-on-the-indian-economy-workforce-25114
  3. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/govt-to-reimburse-25-stipend-of-2-4-lakh-apprentices-deployed-in-industries-11585664768520.html
  4. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/31/822642382/coronavirus-lockdown-sends-migrant-workers-on-a-long-and-risky-trip-home
  5. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/jobs/jobs-and-salaries-safe-despite-disruption-cos-tell-staff/articleshow/74837119.cms

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