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The WHO has declared an international emergency due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak originating in China that has created challenging situations for managing work activities involving travel, attendance to conferences and events, production management and coming into contact with products from this geographical region.

Accordingly, companies must be extremely cautious and mindful when fulfilling their prevention obligations required in Spain with regard to relocated workers and  providing services in countries potentially affected by this outbreak. In particular:

  • Companies should review their policies and decisions regarding relocated employees, as well as the circumstances in which they may have to be repatriated. The courts have ruled not only that the effects on the health that a relocated employee can suffer are professional contingencies with regard to the risks associated with infectious diseases (such as coronavirus), but also that the company is liable for not having acted properly  from the perspective of occupational risk prevention. Some examples below:
  1. In the case of an employee temporarily posted to Thailand (Asia) who contracted Legionnaires’ disease (legionellosis) resulting in the employee’s death, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that the contingency must be defined as a work-related accident (Judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court (Labor) of June 23, 2015 (Rec. 944/2014)).
  2. In the case of a Doctors Without Borders’ employee who had contracted dengue while posted in India (Asia) as general coordinator, the Labor Chamber ordered compensation for damages for €346,932.68 (Judgment of the High Court of Catalonia (Labor Chamber) of March 12, 2012 (Rec. 5033/2010)).
  3. With regard to an employee who died after contracting malaria on a business trip to Cameroon (Africa), the Chamber found the company liable (for additional social security benefits), because  it had not verified whether the employee had been vaccinated, or whether preventive actions in the  country of relocation were appropriate (Judgment of the High Court of Aragón (Labor Chamber) of March 26, 2019 (Rec. 102/2019).

Furthermore, any impact that the business management of this situation has on the commitment and safety of the relocated employee and his or her family, which must also be managed by the company’s human resources department, must be considered.

  • Similarly, companies must take into consideration the difficulties of implementing transnational relocations that have to be carried out during a time of risk, since adopting any inadequate labor risk prevention measures at the place of origin (e.g., lack of information, training or prior vaccination) can also give rise to significant public and private liabilities for the employer.
  • Finally, the impact on production centers’ activities and service provisions stemming from this international state of alert may have significant trade and labor repercussions in the country of origin, where the most appropriate legal alternative must be chosen in each case.

This post is also available in: Español