Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has marked a before and after in this world. Until we develop a vaccine, the world will inevitably have to adapt to the widespread and yet deceitful oxymoron of “a new normal”, which basically recommends maintaining a physical distance of approximately 2m, washing your hands regularly, and avoiding crowds. In conclusion, we’ll need to learn how to live with the virus.
From a business perspective, many companies have been presented with abrupt changes (let’s recall that, from one day to another, a remote framework had to be implemented, which modified the procedures and routines of hundreds of companies), as well as tragic downturns. According to the data provided by the Social Security Authorities, almost 650 companies, who provided support to more than 50 employees, disappeared within the month of June. Those who were lucky enough to reincorporate all their staff, encountered the difficult challenge of “a new normal”.
The first hurdle are offices. Companies that typically require a workspace to perform their activities, have realized that they cannot provide enough space to comply with the physical distancing measures. Nobody could have predicted a scenario as the one we have now. Therefore, companies will be obliged to incur unexpected additional expenses (to purchase plastic screens, hand sanitizer, masks, and laptop devices for those who worked on desktop computers) to adapt their working environment to the health recommendations. Not to mention the companies that unreservedly need larger workspaces and, throughout this situation, have had to continue paying leases despite these workspaces being empty. Furthermore, these expenses represent an additional dilemma for companies that were able to move forward, especially in a moment of great economic uncertainty, with unemployment rising, and when effective mechanisms to create job opportunities and maintain the sustainability of companies are very much needed.
Overlooking the economic chaos, human resources departments have faced a new challenge: nor the Law on the Prevention of Occupational Risks, nor the collective bargaining agreements, consider a pandemic scenario in their provisions or addendums. As such, there is a legal void filled with doubts and uncertainty. How to proceed if employees ignore the health recommendations provided by their organization? May the employer in any way condemn those who put their colleagues in danger? In compliance with the Ministry of Labor, companies indeed have the means to penalize these employees. However, the Labor Law does not tackle this question.
From now on organizations will strongly reinforce the initiative of reserving specific provisions to pandemic scenarios in the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements to clarify the procedures and prevention measures that should be implemented in these cases. However, the Labor Law is not prepared to face exceptional situations as the actual one, which leaves companies in the difficult context of uncertainty. Likewise, companies demand better health insurances to have the capacity to do as many tests as they need, now or further on, to ensure the safety of their employees.
In the meantime, and bearing in mind this tricky and exceptional situation, we can only appeal to individual responsibility so that companies, the driving force behind creating employment, know for a fact that that they can rely on the maximum guarantees to preserve their continuity, safeguard the health of their employees, and have a designed strategy for these cases. It is imperative for us to learn from the current events and to be aware of the fact that we may face similar situations in the near future, and public authorities ought to realize that the only way to attain progress as a society is by making companies’ lives easier.