In view of worrying pandemic figures, the German Federal Government has amended the existing “SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance” (Corona-ArbSchV) (the Ordinance). Employers now face the additional obligation of offering COVID-19 testing to their employees, unless the employees work from home.
Introduction of mandatory testing
The Ordinance stipulates that companies must offer their employees at least one test per week, unless they work from home. Particularly at-risk employees who have frequent customer contact or provide close contact services must be offered at least two tests per week. This is an obligation on the part of the employer to offer tests, but there is no requirement for the employee actually to be tested. Employees who work exclusively from home are not required to be offered these tests. There is no obligation on the employer to document whether employees take advantage of this test or not.
Employers must purchase antigen quick tests, which can be used without the need for trained professionals. The regulation does not provide for compensation of the costs, so employers must bear the costs in full. So far, it is unclear whether companies hit particularly hard by the pandemic will be able to claim these costs under the bridging assistance program.
Extension of existing COVID-19 rules
In addition, existing regulations under the Ordinance (see blog dated January 27, 2021) have been extended for a further period of time. These include, for example, the employer’s obligation to offer working from home where possible; the implementation of company hygiene plans; compliance with minimum social distancing of 1.5m; and the wearing of mouth-nose protection or respiratory masks in communal areas, such as canteens and break rooms.
Compliance with all requirements of the Ordinance can be enforced by the competent occupational health and safety authorities in individual cases by issuing official orders and imposing fines of up to €30,000.
The amended Ordinance comes into force on April 20, 2021 and is limited in time until June 30, 2021.