Epidemic threat and quarantine obligation
On 13 March 2020, an executive regulation of the Minister of Health on the declaration of an epidemiological threat in the Republic of Poland entered into force. It indicates that in the period from 14 March 2020 until further notice a state of an epidemiological threat is declared in the Republic of Poland due to infections from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The result is, inter alia, suspension of international air and rail connections and a ban on foreigners entering the Republic of Poland. In turn, each person crossing the state border to return to its place of residence or stay in the Republic of Poland must submit to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Its basis differs from general rules in this respect.
According to Act of 5 December 2008 on prevention and control of infections and infectious diseases in people, the State Sanitary Inspector or the State Border Sanitary Inspector may issue a decision to quarantine a person in the Republic of Poland if such person is:
- ill with an infectious disease or
- suspected of being infected or ill with an infectious disease or
- had contact with the source of the biological pathogen.
Importantly, a health inspector decision is the basis for payment of sickness benefits on general terms. This is because the time when an insured person is in quarantine is treated as a period of incapacity to work, even if the person is not sick. For this time, benefits are due on the same basis as if the quarantined person was ill. For workers, this is according to general rules:
- the employer pays them sick pay for the first 33 days (14 days for employees above the age of 50) of inability to work in a given calendar year,
- after that time the employee is entitled to a sickness benefit financed by ZUS.
Thus, during absence from work due to quarantine, there is entitlement to sick pay or a sickness benefit. As ZUS states on its website, a decision to undergo a quarantine can be delivered to the employer or to a ZUS facility even after the quarantine period.
Furthermore, if a treating physician determines that a declaration of temporary incapacity to work due to illness is justified during hospitalisation, isolation or quarantine on account of the state of health of the person subject to these obligations and confirms this by issuing a medical certificate, it is also a document for establishing the right and payment of sickness benefits. Assessment of whether a state of health justifies the issue of a medical certificate shall remain at the discretion of the physician.
Quarantine when crossing the border
However, the issued regulation modifies rules on quarantine for persons coming to Poland. According to it, during the period of an epidemiological threat, a person crossing the state border in order to return to a place of residence or stay in the Republic of Poland is required to:
- provide a Border Guard officer:
- its address of residence or stay where the mandatory quarantine will take place,
- its telephone contact number;
- undergo, upon crossing the state border, a mandatory quarantine of 14 days counting from the date following the date of crossing the border.
The Border Guard shall make information available to authorities of the State Sanitary Inspectorate about the address of residence or stay and contact telephone number, together with other data of such person obtained in the course of an inspection.
Significantly, no separate decision of the health inspection authority seems to be issued in relation to the 14-day quarantine obligation. This is important in order to correctly account for remuneration of a quarantined employee. In the standard quarantine procedure the health inspector issues a relevant decision. The question therefore arises as to how an employee should document a compulsory quarantine to an employer.
Employees should above all remember that, in accordance with a regulation of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy of 15 May 1996 on the manner of justifying absence from work and granting employees dismissal from work, the employee must warn the employer about the cause and expected period of absence from work if the cause of this absence is known in advance or is foreseeable.
In this particular case, however, the employee will not provide the employer a quarantine decision, as it is not issued at all. It seems that the basis for payment of sick pay should be appropriate information of the employee on crossing the border, together with a written statement of the quarantine order in accordance with the Regulation on declaring an epidemic emergency. Certainly, this issue should be confirmed by ZUS, so that employers have no doubts about current settlements of remuneration with employees.
It should be remembered that if an employee voluntarily abstains from work and chooses to be kept in quarantine at home as a preventive measure, such employee will not receive a medical certificate or decision from the health inspector on this basis. It will therefore not be entitled to cash benefits in case of illness. However, if an employee works during this time (e.g. as part of a work from home order), the right to remuneration for work will be retained.
Mateusz Brząkowski, attorney-at-law, Employment practice, Wardyński & Partners
Article first published on hrlaw.pl