Top Questions for Retailers in Russia Amid COVID-19

Retail Did You Know?

August 27, 2020

Reopening procedures for retailers in Russia focus on employee scheduling, social distancing and sanitary plans, and medical screening protocols.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced Russian authorities to take restrictive measures to prevent the spread of the virus; however, no state of emergency was announced at the federal level. The lockdown's framework was largely established by President Decree, "Оn Declaration of Non-Working Days in Russia" of March 25, 2020 (as further amended), and President Decree, "On Measures for Ensuring Sanitary-Epidemiological Well-Being of Population on the Territory of the Russian Federation in Connection with the Spread of Novel Coronavirus Infection" of April 2, 2020, which introduced the self-isolation period and nonwork days.

Further, President Vladimir Putin authorized regional authorities to provide further exemptions and/or stricter rules depending on the epidemiological situation in particular territories. Regional authorities issued their own local-level anti-COVID-19-regulations with a set of different restrictive measures.

For the purposes of this Retail Did You Know?, we are reviewing the restrictions and regulations enacted in Moscow, the capital of Russia. More or less similar rules were enacted and are currently in force or gradual release in other Russia's regions. The measures in Moscow were set out in the mayor of Moscow’s decrees, “On Introduction of the State of Enhanced Alert” of March 5, 2020 (as further amended), and “On the Phases of Lifting Restrictions Imposed Due to Introduction of the State of Enhanced Alert” of June 8, 2020 (as further amended).

What are the primary steps retailers in Russia are taking right now?

Retailers in Moscow are currently taking steps to fulfill the measures currently in force under the Moscow mayor's decrees.

Further, another set of anti-COVID-19 rules were established by guidelines of the chief sanitary doctors and industry-specific recommendations of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, and the Department of Trade and Services of Moscow.

In addition, the Association of Retail Companies (ACORT) continually develops special rules and recommendations for the retail industry in Russia. While these do not have the force of the law, major retailers are following them in practice. Reportedly, ACORT has drafted regulations for trade in case a second wave of COVID-19 occurs.

Are retailers allowed to open for in-store shopping?

Grocery stores and other stores selling first-need goods (listed in the mayor's decree) remained open during the lockdown in contrast to nonfood retail units, which were allowed to operate in Moscow from June 1, 2020. All other restrictions have been lifted in three stages:

  • From June 9, 2020, all movement restrictions both for pedestrians and vehicles, including digital passes, have been lifted, and beauty salons, vet clinics, and HR agencies were opened to the public.
  • From June 16, 2020, open terraces of restaurants and cafes, libraries, dentists’ offices, and offices occupied by companies operating in real estate, leasing, law, financial leasing, accounting, management consulting, advertising, market research, and technical inventory of real estate were opened to the public.
  • From June 23, 2020, swimming pools, sports clubs, and fitness centers, as well as restaurants, cafes, and bars were allowed to open.

All organizations have to comply with sanitary requirements imposed by the sanitary authorities and abide by the so-called safety protocols developed by Moscow supervisory authorities in the retail sphere. Those protocols are quite detailed and govern social distancing, maximum occupancy in stores, movement of people, use of protective gear etc.

Are there social distancing requirements/limitations of patrons and employees?

The requirements of the Moscow authorities can be split into the following key workstreams of reopening procedures.

Employee Scheduling

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.

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). To this point, retailers should closely review Rospotrebnadzor’s recommendations such as a protection protocol for nonfood retail and service provisions and the guidelines of 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 an employee is allowed to not use personal protective equipment if the employee is alone in a separate room.
  • Maintenance of social distancing including by limiting access to the workplace and mapping out the 1.5-meter distance on the floor.

Medical Screening Protocols

See “What are the health and safety requirements for employees?” below for more details.

Are masks required for all?

Moscow authorities require everyone to wear face masks or respirators and gloves when on public transport (including taxis) and in healthcare facilities, stores, and other public places.

Is curbside pickup allowed?

Yes. Generally, public eating and food services (cafes, restaurants, bars, and others) working for takeaway or food delivery were not prohibited during the lockdown, subject to the social distancing/protective gear requirements.

What are the health and safety requirements for employees?

The Moscow authorities require employers to organize the medical screening of personnel, including the following:

  • 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)

Personnel are required to participate in these screenings and provide relevant information to their employers. 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 who are not willing or able to participate in mandatory screenings.

What are the protocols for calling people who have been furloughed back to work?

As a matter of Russian law, there is no concept of an "employee furlough." During the lockdown, authorities introduced the concept of "mandatory nonwork days" where employees who could not work remotely or who were having special health conditions should have been provided the opportunity to stay home while retaining their full salary. There is no special protocol in calling employees back from mandatory nonwork days; the main requirement is that an employer must ensure compliance with the requirements set out in the response to “Are there social distancing requirements/limitations of patrons and employees?” above.

What stimulus funds are available for retailers?

The set of state support measures is very broad and depends on the business level and the industry in which a particular company operates.

The general measures include the deferral of certain taxes and lease payments for premises (except for residential accommodation), postponement of tax audits, prolongation of different state licenses and permissions, credit holidays, and bank loans at reduced rates. Additional measures are available for small- and medium-sized enterprises, companies from the list of industries most affected by COVID-19 (including the retail industry), and "too big to fail" companies (the list includes, among others, major retailers). The targeted state support to such key companies may include state subsidies, debt restructuring, and other measures to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Have retailers opened and then shut back down?

Retailers in Moscow continue to operate since reopening.

What are the most significant challenges retailers in Russia are likely to face in the next three months?

The most significant challenge is the unstable COVID-19 situation, which remains extremely fluid. Rules may change depending upon the epidemiological situation. Another significant challenge relates to the drop in consumer demands.

Retailers may suffer from changes in consumer behavior patterns (e.g., increased volume of online purchases, decreased demand for certain goods). Another major issue could be negotiations with owners of leased premises, as reportedly not all landlords are flexible in negotiating reduced rates, discounts, and other support measures to their lessors.

Anything to add about what stands out in this region?

Generally, in response to the pandemic, Russia tends to implement the detailed regulation of the remote work mode. The State Duma is currently considering a draft law amending the Labour Code and aiming to introduce three types of remote work: permanent, temporary, and combined. The adoption of this draft law would increase flexibility by allowing the use of information and communication technologies in labor relations and electronic document management.

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Trainee associate Alena Neskoromyuk contributed to this article.