According to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the coronavirus is a family of viruses that causes respiratory infection, whose new agent causes coronavirus disease (COVID- 19), which is transmitted by saliva, cough, sneeze or handshake. The first case was detected in China in December 2019 and, since then, the coronavirus has been one of the biggest global concerns in terms of health policies due to the risk of contamination and cases of death already registered.
In this context of concern and seeking for prevention, on February 6, 2020, the Brazilian Federal Government enacted Law No. 13,979, with the scope of creating specific policies for handling the disease. As a result, when it comes to public health and environment, the coronavirus undoubtedly affects the work environment and it is linked to the employer's duty of preserving the employees’ right to work in a healthy and safe work environment.
The Brazilian labor legislation - Brazilian Labor Code (CLT) and Ordinance No. 3,214/1978 of the Ministry of Labor - establishes several rules about accidents and illnesses prevention, whether work-related or not. The new Law No. 13,979 has no provision about protective measures at work related to the coronavirus, but it considers the absence of the employee for purposes of determining, medical appointments and treatment of the disease as a justified absence. (i.e., paid leave).
Therefore, even though by law the employer is not obliged to take any specific measure regarding the coronavirus, given the current scenario and considering protection, both for the employee and the employer, it is necessary to adopt preventive and precautionary measures.
Modernization, technological innovation, the advent of new relational dynamics and the emergence of more complex facts, such as viruses and diseases, do not rule out the need for protection for all the ones involved: protection of the employee, as a working citizen, and protection of the employer, as an enterprise that has the right and duty to prevent the occurrence of damage and to avoid labor liabilities. This is set forth by the Brazilian Federal Constitution (fundamental rights and guarantees, fundamental social rights and the company’s social purpose), as well as from ISO 26000 (Social Responsibility).
Given this context, we recommend some measures in addition to several others that may be adopted:
- a. create an extraordinary committee within the scope of SESMT (Specialized Service in Safety Engineering and Occupational Medicine) and CIPA (Internal Commission for Accidents Prevention) for the creation of an action plan to combat the coronavirus;
- b. establish an informative program on measures to prevent and cope with the disease;
- c. implement basic hygiene measures for workplaces and company’s facilities;
- d. evaluate the risks from travels that may eventually be taken by employees, especially to Asia and Europe, and create an action protocol, analyzing the possibility and necessity of every travel;
- e. when possible, adopt remote work for employees returning from international trips, especially when the visited country is among the countries on alert as listed by the Brazilian Ministry of Health;
- f. send for medical examination, if there is mutual interest, employees who have traveled abroad, especially to countries listed as risk areas, even if the employees do not present the disease contamination symptoms;
- g. ask the medical care services, whether performed by the company or by a company hired to render such services, to refine inquiries regarding the coronavirus in medical examinations performed upon hiring, termination or periodically;
- h. provide immediate care or referral for cases that show the slightest trace of suspicion or symptoms of the disease;
- i. create an action protocol capable of avoiding harassing or discriminatory treatment of any employee who presents the symptoms, especially regarding the awareness of co-workers;
- j. formalize in writing all actions taken with minutes of the meetings, medical referral records, medical prescriptions, awareness newsletters, etc.
Measures like the ones proposed above may contribute in a very positive way to contain concerns and to face the risks still unknown involving the coronavirus.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, consequently, the restrictions on users in Brazil, the Brazilian Patent and Trademarks Office (INPI) published on March 17, 2020, in its Official Magazine, an official announcement informing that:
- All administrative deadlines are suspended from March 16 to April 14, 2020 and will resume on April 15, 2020.
- Presential services are suspended for an indefinite period.
INPI informed that they will continue to monitor the situation and take other measures if necessary.
Please rest assured that we are carefully monitoring any changes, and as soon as we have any updates, we will promptly inform.