Еmployers – employees relations during the COVID-19 State of Emergency in Bulgaria

On March 24th, 2020 the Bulgarian parliament enacted the Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency Act. The latter is considered retroactively entered into forced as of 13th of March 2020 – the day on which State of Emergency was declared by a Decision of the Bulgarian Parliament for period of one month.

Some the measures affect the relationship between employers and employees. The Act introduces certain legal options or remedies which aim at limiting the negative effects of the declared State of Emergency on employment. In brief the amendments to the Bulgarian Labor Code are as follows:

The employer has the right to order the employees to work home office or from a distance without acquiring their prior consent. The employer is entitled to amend the labor contract unilaterally in this respect, however, all other clauses thereto shall remain unchanged.

During the State of Emergency the employer would be entitled to issue an order by which the operations of his entire business could be ceased, in part of in full, or it could cease the work of particular employees. The employer is free to choose the duration of the cease of operations – during the entire State of Emergency or within certain period of time.

Cease of operations could be also enforced by an act issued by a competent state body as the order of the Minister of healthcare which closed restaurants, fast food places, bars and discos, etc. In such cases the employer shall not allow the employees to go to their workstations.

Regardless of any cease of operations, the employer shall pay the remuneration stipulated in the labor contract.

The State of Emergency Act provides that during its effect, but no longer than three months, the National social security institute will transfer to the employers 60% of the social security income of their employees on the basis of the amount declared in January 2020. The employer is obliged to transfer these funds to its employees and to pay them the rest of their remunerations. This option will be available only to certain employers who will be selected upon criteria set by the Council of ministers in a separate legislative act. Up to the moment there is no such legislative act but a draft of it has been sent to particular stakeholders. Given the position of the Bulgarian Industrial Association it can be concluded that the option will be available to a limited circle of employees and it will be applied in the hypothesis when the cease of operations is ordered by a competent state body, but not when the employer has decided to cease operations in order to protect its personnel and the society or there is no business due to the emergency situation (https://www.bia-bg.com/standpoint/view/26716/).

Upon termination of the operation of the entire business under item 2 above (by an order of the employer or by an order of state body), the employer may grant his employees all paid annual leave without their consent, even if the employee does not have 8 months of service, while article 7, p. 2 from the State of Emergency Act explicitly provides that the employer can order to the employee to use half of his annual paid leave.

During the state of emergency, irrespective of the fact whether the operations of the undertaking are ceased by an order or not, a certain category of employees may apply for paid or unpaid annual leave and their employer would not be entitled to refuse such request. The employer cannot refuse leave applications to: pregnant employees or in advanced in vitro treatment; mother or adoptive parent of a child under the age of 12 or a disabled child, regardless of age; a worker or employee who is a single father or adoptive parent of a child up to 12 years of age or of a disabled child, regardless of age; a worker or employee who is under the age of 18; employee with permanent disability of 50 and more than 50 percent; worker or employee with the right of protection upon dismissal under Art. 333, para. 1, items 2 and 3 CT (employed and suffering from any of the following diseases) 1. Ischemic heart disease; 2. Active form of tuberculosis; 3. Oncological disease; 4. Occupational disease; 5. Mental illness; 6. Diabetes mellitus). The time off is recognized labor experience.

During the state of emergency, the employer is entitled to assign part-time work for the whole undertaking or a separate unit thereof.

Restrictions on the provision of overtime work shall not apply to medical assistants and to public servants who assist them in providing medical assistance.

Teachers and principals shall conduct distance learning classes without having to conclude additional agreements to their employment contracts.

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