By Kadeem Joseph
Employers are being warned that workers cannot be forced to use their accumulated vacation time in order to cover periods during which the employee needs to quarantine due to exposure to the Covid-19 virus.
The caution was made by the Deputy Labour Commissioner Pascal Kentish during a panel discussion put on by the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union over the weekend.
Kentish explained that the law does not mandate employers to pay their workers during periods of quarantine, “neither can the employer require the employee to take vacation because, under the law, vacation is by mutual agreement”.
He said it is for this reason that employers cannot unilaterally impose vacation, adding that the principle of “no work, no pay” applies.
This notion explains that a worker who does not provide work or a service to an employer, despite it being no fault of their own, is not entitled to remuneration.
Kentish said, however, this does not mean that one’s accumulated vacation cannot be utilised during these periods, but in such cases both parties must be in agreement.
In the meantime, the labour department official has said clear ground rules must be laid out before employees are asked to work from home, noting that an employer may require to inspect the employee’s working quarters.
“This is because that home now becomes an extension of the workplace and if the employee happens to get injured in the course of employment, during working hours, then the employer may be held liable,” Kentish explained.
He added that in instances where employees are working from home, the company may also need to provide proper equipment to assist in completing tasks.
“At the home, the employee may not have a proper workstation and seating arrangement. For instance, if the seating arrangement is not proper and the equipment is not ergonomically inclined, the employee could develop an injury, for instance carpel tunnel syndrome, and the employer could be held liable,” he explained.
Kentish said employers must also consider the socioeconomic impacts of the employee working from home to include the impact on electricity and internet consumption, all of which he said should be “clearly dealt with” by the company before the employee is asked to work from home.