The German government’s plans and actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming months are becoming more concrete. On September 8, 2022, the German parliament passed new measures aimed at fighting the spread of COVID-19 this fall and winter. This legislative initiative included rewriting the SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, which is scheduled to be in effect from October 1, 2022, through April 7, 2023.
Contrary to initial plans and reports, the new SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Regulation does not explicitly require employers to offer employees the option of working from home. Instead, the regulation provides the following familiar measures to contain the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Protective Hygiene Concepts
As was required in previous fall and winter seasons, employers must assess risk and determine suitable protective measures to minimize COVID-19 infection in the workplace as part of their company hygiene concepts. Accordingly, the regulation requires employers to implement hygiene rules (e.g., maintain a social distance of 1.5 meters, pay attention to hand hygiene, and wear face masks in everyday life) and ensure regular, intensive ventilation. Moreover, the regulation requires employers to reduce the number of people in contact with one another during operations (e.g., by ensuring that no more than one person is using a particular premises at the same time).
Although the regulation does not explicitly require employees to work remotely from home, it requires employers to at least consider whether they can offer employees the opportunity to work from home.
Under the regulation, employers, as part of their company hygiene concepts, must consider offering free COVID-19 testing to employees who cannot work exclusively in home offices. The regulation does not stipulate a general obligation on the part of employers to provide COVID-19 testing opportunities to employees.
Employers will again be required to provide protective face masks wherever other measures to contain the risk of infection are not feasible or not sufficient (such as when minimum distances cannot be maintained). In these cases, employers must provide medical face masks or respirator masks.
The regulation also contains familiar requirements on the subject of vaccinations—namely, that employers must inform their employees about the health risks in the event of COVID-19 infection and about the possibility of protective vaccinations. In addition, employers must ensure that employees can attend appointments for such vaccinations during working hours. The regulation states that if vaccinations are carried out by company doctors on-site, employers should support them in terms of personnel and organization.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.