COVID-19 AND LABOR CHALLENGES

(i) Background

2019 ended with the existence of a disease with similar characteristics to influenza, developing in the city of Wuhan, People's Republic of China. Expanding rapidly throughout the territory, alerting experts. In less than four months, since the first reports the focus has expanded and nowadays the World Health Organization states that we are facing a pandemic.

WHO advised countries to adopt measures to prevent the virus spread and assessed to contain those countries who had to change the operations of their social system with several containment measures, including the cessation of activities. The high probability of contagion is an imperative factor in everyday life, as is the case with public shows and work activities.

(ii) The disease in Uruguay

With the imminent confirmation of the Public Health Ministry, regarding the presence of COVID-19 cases and the exponential growth of diseased people, on March 13th, the President of the Republic announced Health Emergency, providing a series of measures linked to the partial closure of borders and the prohibition of public shows, among others.

Regarding to the Uruguayans work life, the Labor and Social Security Ministry, the Safety National Council and CONASSAT agreed to adopt preventive measures related to health problems in the field of work.

These recommendations will undoubtedly have a direct impact on both labor relations and the companies’ productive and business continuity structure.

(iii) Business continuity plans (BCP)

The two major contingency plans in event of natural or other situations that directly or indirectly affect the development of the business activity: the so-called "Disaster Recovery Plan" and the "Business Continuity Plan" (Business continuity plans).

These plans have their origins in the 1970s, when the organizations began to detect that the elements automation of the production chain, regardless what was the main activity of the industry, entailed almost absolute dependence on computer systems. So, they began to develop plans based on the accumulation of company’s experiences with natural disasters, which then led to the development of standardized guidelines for good practice in matter, and subsequently to the issuance of ISO 22301.

This type of plan has allowed organizations not only to have clear routes of action, but also to incorporate elements in their infrastructure that allow business continuity (either from the work remotely, until the logistics and conditions for the development of the work without endangering the health of other employees).

(iv) Occupational health

If a decision to cease activities or to implement a continuity plan, the decision taken will have as a center for ensuring the occupational health conditions of its workers, so the Act 127/014 and 127/019 may be the starting point to implement basic symptom controls to the workers.

Although the main objective of Decree 127/014 is not entirely in line with the current situation, it is recommended that companies develop a plan to control physical symptoms to mitigate possible spread of the virus while - even if limited – the companies can continue to operate. As an example, body temperature controls could be carried out, monitoring the health status of officials, implementing passive mitigation measures, establishing a rotating work regime.

Within the CONASSAT work, the Resolution adopted on March 13th, provided the relevance of the employer to coordinate the necessary mechanisms for the preparation of prevention protocols, control and action in response to the aforementioned risk according to the nature and characteristics of each company or institution that had in place:

A) Prevention and Control Measures:

  • Establish mechanisms for express communication to workers by placing visible spaces and/or
    distributing information material, concerning prevention, control, and actions issued by the
    Public Health Ministry in relation to the COVID 19.
  • Provide the workplaces the necessary hygiene material to comply with the control measures,
    prevention and action issued by the Public Health Ministry, such as the distribution of enough
    alcohol, and means of personal protection.
  • Extend regulatory hygiene measures through maintenance and disinfection of equipment
    that project air, such as hand dryers, air conditioners, as well as hygiene and disinfection
    of work clothes, personal protective equipment and surfaces to which the workers may require.
  • Adopting work organization measures that mitigate the risk of spreading the coronavirus COVID 19,
    in line with the possibilities and nature of the activity, such as implementation of distance working,
    and the assessment of avoiding outside travel by staff.

B) Performance Measures:

  • if a worker has any symptoms of COVID19, establish the corresponding action plans.
  • The mechanisms should provide for: a) the participation of the Prevention and Health Services at Work provided by Act 127/014 (if the company has them), or the medical service.
    b) the fasten and effective adoption of control measures for the other workers who contact with the infected worker within a period of not less than 14 days before the onset of the symptoms of the disease.

This presents a great challenge for Uruguay and its productive organizations to implement
the measures of prevention and containment, without paralyzing the economy. It will
depend on each industry whether implement alternative working mechanisms, but the
biggest challenge will be faced by those organizations that necessarily require the on-site work of their employees to continue producing.

Despite not having specific regulations for the case, it is suggested that organizations which
require to continue with their activities, adopt Act 127/014 for the purpose of ensuring their
workers appropriate health and safety conditions to prevent them from being infected in their working environments.

(v) How to continue with the business

Considering the current situation regarding the COVID-19, the country has faced the
challenge of complying with health nature recommendations issued by the Public Health
Ministry and CONASSAT and to time to continue with their productive and economic activity.

Organizations that already have a "BCP"-style plan have paved the way for implementing
solutions according to company’s business. However, for companies which do not have a
business contingency plan, the new measures to be implemented will have to face the
incorporation of emergency measures contemplating the risk of the virus spread.

If they do not have business continuity plans, companies will face the dilemma of continuing
or not its productive assets, and in the case of choosing to do so, define how, what may affect
the viability of the company in the short term.

Several companies will be able to encourage their staff to work remotely. Not without first
assessing the risks and possibilities of doing so: a. Nature of the activity, b. Quantity of
employees, c. Computer infrastructure supporting remote connection, d. Personal
computers of employees or delivery of equipment by the company, e. Employment contracts
that may or may not provide for of working remotely, f. Effective control of activities, g.
Information security factors, h. Costs of implementation; just to mention a few.

The biggest challenge is for companies whose core business is focused on manufacturing,
industrial activity, or direct services, where necessarily, for the company to operate, the
presence of its employees on site.

(VI) Conclusions and Improvement Opportunity

COVID-19 can be considered as an opportunity for companies’ improvement and growth.
Overcoming the current Pandemic, is important for all organizations to acquire and/or adopt
plans for continuity of the business, which enable, in the face of possible threats to the
productivity of the company and health of its workers, only use the established plan and do
not try solutions that have not been tested and that can cause unnecessary costs and risks
for the organization and its employees.

Andersen Tax & Legal is Uruguay’s member of Andersen Global, an international association of member firms comprised of legal and tax professionals worldwide.