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COVID-19: Russia Reopening the Workplace: A Preliminary Guide for Moscow Employers

June 08, 2020

As Russian regions are lifting pandemic-related workplace restrictions, employers must start considering how best to cope with a vast array of issues, including restarting operations, reintegrating remote-working employees, implementing new and existing requirements, and protecting the safety of employees and customers. Employers who proactively plan for these challenges will be best positioned to adapt to the “new normal.”

This guide highlights the key considerations for employers when reopening their operations in Moscow, the largest city in Russia. It offers practical implementation steps they can take. This guide is focused on what can be done now with the understanding that special attention must be paid to further decrees of the Mayor of Moscow, orders of various departments of the Moscow government and other authorities, as well as guidance from the sanitary authorities including Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being (Rospotrebnadzor) and chief sanitary doctors.

In this guide we review the measures set by the Mayor of Moscow’s decree “On Introduction of the State of Enhanced Alert,” which was initially issued on 5 March 2020 and since then amended several times, most recently on 27 May 2020 (Moscow Decree) and his new decree “On the Phases of Lifting Restrictions Imposed due to Introduction of the State of Enhanced Alert,” issued on 8 June 2020 (June 8 Decree). Note that other regions of Russia are implementing their own rules.

What Businesses Can Reopen and When

On June 8, the Mayor of Moscow announced the softening of the lockdown measures and the timetable for reopening further  businesses. For example, the following businesses will be allowed to reopen or expand their operations, subject to compliance with applicable reopening requirements:

  • From 9 June:
  • car-sharing and taxi services
  • beauty and cosmetic services
  • photo services
  • veterinary services
  • recruiting agencies
  • theaters, concert organizations, circuses
  • movie and video producing, sound recording businesses
  • businesses engaged in scientific and technical activities
  • certain educational organizations.
  • From 16 June:
  • seasonal summer cafes
  • libraries (subject to the preregistration of visitors), museums, exhibition halls, and zoos, provided they organize visiting by electronic tickets and comply with the restriction on the simultaneous number of visitors
  • regular dental services
  • real estate agencies
  • leasing businesses
  • legal and accounting services
  • marketing organizations
  • From 23 June:
  • fitness and health centers, swimming pools
  • restaurants, cafes, canteens, buffets, bars, snack bars, and other catering facilities, including in culture and leisure parks,
  • SPA salons, massage parlors, solariums, baths, saunas
  • water transport services
  • preschool education organizations
  • social welfare services

The above are just examples. You need to consult with the June 8 Decree to ascertain whether and when your business can reopen.

These businesses are in addition to those that were allowed to reopen in mid-May and early June, including retail shops and wholesale businesses, engineering firms and architecture bureaus, computer maintenance and household appliances service companies, industrial enterprises such as metallurgical, electrics, and optics production, furniture manufacturing, clothing manufacturing, and construction companies and some other enterprises; and the exempt organizations that continued to operate during the lockdown (for details on the exempt organizations, please read our previous LawFlash).

Reopening Requirements

When planning to reopen the workplace, employers must carefully review the following rules:

  • The basic sanitary rules under the Moscow Decree that apply to all entities, both operating and closed. The key ones are as follows:
  • Measure body temperature of employees, suspend from work those with high temperatures, and provide assistance to employees who must self-isolate
  • Inform the relevant authorities of all contacts that an employee with confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) had and disinfect all premises where an employee with confirmed COVID-19 was present
  • Ensure maintenance of social distancing including by limiting access to the workplace and mapping out the 1.5 meter distance on the floor

(Please refer to the section on Anti-COVID-19 Measures of our previous LawFlash for more details.)

  • Special rules for businesses that can reopen are established by Schedule 6 of the Moscow Decree. The key rules are as follows:
  • Do not allow employees with certain health conditions to workplace
  • Ensure that employees use personal protective equipment while at work
  • Ensure maintenance of social distancing (including by installing the protective screens, if necessary)
  • Organize COVID-19 testing of employees;

(Please refer to our previous LawFlash for more detail.)

Importantly, as drafted, these rules apply even if an employer decides to continue remote working regime after it can reopen.

  • Recommendations of Rospotrebnadzor for businesses that reopen or continue work. Rospotrebnadzor issued over 40 guidelines already. Most of them are industry-specific. But some are of general nature and apply to all businesses including:
  • Safety protocols established by the Moscow government’s departments in furtherance of the Rospotrebnadzor’s recommendations:

The above rules impose multiple conditions that need to be in place for reopening. Some of them overlap. Employers should think about and plan for what processes and procedures they must develop and implement to comply with these rules and, at the same time, accomplish the successful and efficient reopening of their businesses.

Rospotrebnadzor’s recommendations indicate that an employer should seek to clearly communicate the safety measures to its employees. An employer can also conduct trainings, both for employees and for the management, to educate employees about the new rules and responsibilities.

An employer should also consider whether to formalize these procedures in a formal written policy. Formal written policies will help protect employees, reassure employees who fear returning to work, and may reduce employer liability upon reopening.

Where appropriate, for example in relation to the employee scheduling, employers should seek to enter into amendments to employment agreement to account for the changed working conditions.

Reopening Procedures

The requirements outlined in the preceding section can be split into the following key work streams of the reopening procedures:

  • Employee scheduling
  • Social distancing and sanitary plans
  • Medical screening protocols

Below we outline certain issues to be considered in relation to each of the procedures.

  • Employee scheduling: the Moscow Decree requires every employer to determine the number of individuals (employees and individual contractors) in each of the following categories:
  • working in the workplace (office), which must be limited to persons who cannot work remotely because they must be directly involved in ensuring the technological and other processes necessary for such organization’s functioning;
  • working remotely; and
  • not working (with salary still due and payable)

Employers that have already made such determination should regularly reevaluate it to make sure they are in line with the current rules. When implementing social distancing in the workplace, an employer may wish to consider staggered shifts, alternating teams, or similar scheduling accommodations.

Special care should be taken when deciding how to implement the restrictions to attend the workplace that apply to vulnerable categories of employees including individuals with certain preexisting health conditions and quarantined individuals.

While it may sound logical to include health restrictions in the applicable scheduling policy, it should be carefully considered. A one-size-fits-all approach may be easy to administer, but given the nuance involved in the decisions, we are not advising employers to implement broad policies that may have the effect of keeping everyone in a certain protected category at home when the restrictions are loosened or lifted. Rather, employers should look at who can return to work on an individualized basis.

  • Social distancing and sanitary plans: Social distancing and sanitary plans must be industry- and employer-specific, and must address the unique needs and circumstances of each business (including different kinds of worksites and operations). In addition to the Moscow Decree, employers should closely review Rospotrebnadzor’s recommendations and the guidelines of the chief sanitary doctors. In relation to social distancing, disinfection, and workplace safety, the following issues should be considered:
  • Whether any physical workspace modification is required to ensure appropriate social distancing.
  • Procedures for the use of common areas, such as lobby, restrooms, conference rooms, and kitchenettes.
  • Procedures for the use of personal protective equipment (masks or respirators, and gloves). Note that the Moscow Decree allows an employee not to use PPE if the employee is alone in a separate room.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting protocols, including ventilation and air conditioning policies. Employers should work with their landlords to establish areas of responsibility. It may also be appropriate to document it in an addendum to lease agreement.
  • Medical screening protocols: the Moscow Decree requires employers to organize the medical screening of personnel, including the following:
  • Collection of information about respiratory infections, COVID-19 or pneumonia, diabetes, obesity, hypertension of the 2nd type, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or bronchial asthma of the 2nd type, and pregnancy
  • Temperature screens in the workplace, at least once every four hours
  • COVID-19 testing for at least 10% of personnel every 15 days
  • Blood sampling for enzyme immunoassay analysis (exact procedures are not approved yet)

The Moscow Decree specifically requires personnel to participate in these screenings and provide relevant information to the employer. However, the following must be taken into account:

  • Any health-related data that employers may collect from such screening is sensitive personal data under the Russian data privacy law and is subject to certain restrictions on its collection and use. As any other sensitive personal data, an employer must keep information about health conditions received from its employees secure and confidential.

Further, employers should review and update their personal data protection policies to account for the processing of this health data, including on communicating this data to the authorities or third parties, where required. An employer should consider adopting tailored consent forms that its employees would sign to authorize the employer to process such sensitive data during the pandemic period. Once this period is over, this data must be destroyed in compliance with the Russian data privacy law.

  • Employers must be mindful that certain federal laws expressly prohibit any medical intervention without the individual’s consent. Accordingly, employers should not force employees to sign screening consent forms, but instead develop procedures for employees that are not willing or able to participate in mandatory screenings.

What’s Next

The Mayor of Moscow announced that he considers further loosening the restrictions to allow businesses to reopen, but they expect the social distancing, sanitary, and other anti-COVID-19 spread requirements to continue until the vaccine is available.

In the meantime, on 8 June 2020 President Vladimir Putin signed amendments to the Federal Law on Emergency Situations allowing the Russian government to establish special rules and exemptions from the Russian Labor Code to address the COVID-19 situation. It is expected that the Russian government will use this right to set forth special rules for remote working, furlough, and staff reductions during the pandemic.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. Find resources on how to cope with the post-pandemic reality on our NOW. NORMAL. NEXT. page and ourCOVID-19 page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts, and download our biweekly COVID-19 Legal Issue Compendium.

CONTACTS

We hope that you find this LawFlash useful. If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact the following Moscow-based lawyers: Vasilisa Strizh, Anastasia Dergacheva, Ksenia Andreeva, Dmitry Ivanov, Bela Pelman, Alexandra Rotar and Dmitry Dmitriev.