What employment law developments should Austrian employers keep in mind at the start of 2021? This article sets out some key changes.
Postponed alignment of notice periods of white-collar and blue-collar workers
The Austrian government stipulated that the agreed harmonisation of notice periods and terms between white-collar and blue-collar workers will be implemented as of 1 July 2021 instead of 1 January 2021 as initially scheduled.
Transfers to the new collective bargaining agreement salary system
In principle, the transfer to the new salary system for white-collar workers and apprentices in commercial companies must be completed by 1 January 2022 at the latest. Employees can be transferred to the new CBA salary system on every first day of each month. In companies with a works council, the transfer date must be set by a plant agreement concluded between the works council and the employer; in companies without a works council, employees must be notified in writing about the transfer date not later than three months in advance. In addition, within the CBA the social partners require that the transfer date in establishments which habitually employ more than ten employees must be communicated to them at least three months in advance by informal email, giving the name and address of the establishment, the number of employees and the forthcoming date of the transfer.
According to the CBA, at least four weeks before the transfer date, employees should receive a written record (Umstiegsdienstzettel) which must include the new employment group, new employment level or new employment group year and the new minimum salary resulting from it.
In general, the classification into employment groups and employment levels within the new salary system should be made according to the principles stipulated in the CBA.
Planned paid leave for pregnant women
This special paid leave applies to pregnant women from the 14th week of pregnancy who have physical contact with other people (whether other employees or external people) during work. Employers are required to protect pregnant employees from this contact by changing their working conditions or transferring them to another workplace; they can also consider the possibilities of working from home. Otherwise, the pregnant employee is entitled to paid leave. In implementing this, employers will be reimbursed for the associated costs (including social insurance payments and taxes) by the health insurance carrier. The entitlement to paid leave ends with the start of the prohibition on work before giving birth. The regulation will apply until 31 March 2021 for the time being.
Home office update (developed by a special task force established by the Government)
The (partly pre-existing and currently further developed) regulations concerning home office cover three essential points:
- accident insurance;
- commuter allowance; and
- two specific guidelines: Ergonomic Work during Home Office and Rules for Mobile Work and their Implementation.
Accidents which occur during home office work are also covered by the accident insurance for accidents at work. This regulation which was implemented in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic has recently been extended from 31 December 2020 to 31 March 2021.
The commuter allowance will be granted to employees until 31 March 2021 even if employees do not commute between their home and workplace (during this period) as a result of short-time work or home office, but have done so before (which is a prerequisite for commuter allowance).
Two 'home office guidelines' which were issued by the Ministry of Labour shall provide practical support for companies and employees to make the home office environment as productive and safe as possible.
- Ergonomic Work during Home Office:this guideline focuses on setting up an ergonomic workstation and creating a safe and healthy work environment at home. It has been created as a reference guide for employees as well as for employers.
- Rules for Mobile Work and their Implementation:this guideline supports employers to develop organisational rules regarding mobile work and provides assistance to implement the relevant rules.
In addition, it has been announced by the responsible Minister, Christine Aschbacher, that further concrete home office regulations will be introduced by March 2021 at the latest.
Amendments to COVID-19 travel rules
The new Austrian Entry Regulation, which came into force on 19 December 2020 and remains in force until 31 March 2021 has introduced substantive amendments regarding entry to Austria.
For people entering Austria from Annex A countries (i.e. countries where there is no high COVID-19-risk), there are still no entry restrictions, provided they have stayed continuously in these countries or in Austria for the past ten days before their entry. For those entering Austria from countries other than those in Annex A, there is a mandatory ten-day quarantine period. From the fifth day on, individuals can be released from quarantine with a negative PCR or antigen test. Specific groups of people, such as humanitarian workers or medical escorts, do not have to enter quarantine if they can present a medical certificate confirming a negative PCR or antigen test which was performed not longer than 72 hours previously. If this test was carried out in Austria, quarantine can be terminated by a negative test result. In addition, there are also exceptions where no restrictions apply, such as travel for deaths, births or funerals of family members or if the person only travels through Austria without stopping.
Legal simplification of the Austrian Settlement and Residence Act
According to recent amendments of the Austrian Settlement and Residence Act the following simplifications have been effective since 24 December 2020:
People in the 'extended circle of relatives of EEA citizens' will already be allowed to pursue independent gainful employment based on a 'settlement permit' from the beginning of their stay in Austria. This category includes life partners who can prove the existence of a durable relationship as well as other relatives of EEA citizens who:
- have already received financial support from the EEA citizen in his or her country of domicile;
- who have already shared a home with the EEA citizen in the country of domicile; or
- for whom serious health reasons make personal care by the EEA citizen absolutely necessary.
These individuals will be allowed to submit their application for a residence permit in Austria (instead of having to apply from abroad). In addition, proof of local accommodation will no longer be required and the maximum period within which the authorities must decide about the application will be reduced to 90 days. After two years of legal settlement in Austria and if the legal requirements are met, these individuals will be eligible for a 'Red-White-Red-Card plus' residence status irrespective of any quota.
In addition, the requirement on applicants to prove they have local accommodation when requesting a 'Red-White-Red' Card also ceased to exist from 24 December 2020.
Extension of special care time
The option to take time off for necessary care of children and other dependents (under special circumstances established by law) has been extended until 9 July 2021. Employees now have a legal right to special care time provided that the legal requirements are fulfilled. Their employers will get 100% reimbursement by the State (more precisely the federal government) of the continued remuneration paid to employees taking special care time. However, the entitlement to reimbursement for the wages paid to employees is capped at the maximum contribution base (EUR 5,370 for 2020) under the General Social Insurance Act (ASVG).
COVID-19 risk group provisions extended until 31 March 2021
The specific paid leave regulations for at-risk groups were recently extended until 31 March 2021. This means employees who belong to this particularly vulnerable group of people (as defined by the relevant regulation based on concrete medical criteria) and who do not have the option of home office work can be released from their duty to work while keeping full pay. The period of this measure may be further extended until the end of June 2021 (by a separate regulation) if the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
Visa and residence permit extensions
Special COVID-19-related immigration law provisions have been extended until 30 June 2021, for example certain visas (the visa for reasons particularly worthy of consideration and the visa for seasonal workers) which have already been acquired by the visa-holders will be valid beyond their initial validity period provided that the holders have a granted work permit. The possibility of submitting settlement and asylum renewal applications by post or electronically (instead applying in person) is also extended until 30 June 2021.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.