Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ministry of Labour – Frequently Asked Questions Version II, COVID-19 Labour/Employment Situations

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1. The Government of Belize has issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency (Statutory Instrument 45 of 2020):
(I) Are the employees entitled to wages during this period if they are not working?
RESPONSE: Please note that once an employee’s employment contract is in force, his or her employer has an obligation to pay the employee for his or her services under the terms and conditions of the existing employment contract.

(II) Are employees entitled to Public and Bank Holidays which fall during the proclamation period if employees are not working?
RESPONSE: Once an employee’s contract is in force, the employee would be entitled to compensation and benefits in accordance with the Labour Act and the terms and conditions of his or her employment. No deductions are to be made from employee’s wages where such an employee is paid by the month or the week for time not worked on a Public and Bank Holiday.

In accordance with section 117(2) of the Labour Act Chapter 297, employees who are paid by the day or by the hour or/and a piece/task basis are entitled to be paid for the day(s) on which he would have worked were it not a public holiday on the employees’ right to be paid for such Public and Bank Holidays arises where:
(a) The Public or Bank Holiday falls on what would otherwise be a scheduled workday;
(b) The employee is at work on the scheduled workday immediately preceding the Public and Bank Holiday and on the work day immediately following the Public and Bank Holiday; or
(c) Where the employee has been laid off within six days before the public holiday, he is re-employed within six days after the holiday.

2. Are persons who are currently employed entitled to receive holiday pay for Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Monday?
RESPONSE: In accordance with section 117 (3) (4) of the Labour Act Chapter 297, all work done on Holy Saturday shall be paid for at one and one-half times the employee’s ordinary rate of pay. Also, all work done on Good Friday and Easter Monday shall be paid for at double the employee’s ordinary rate of pay. Furthermore, no deduction shall be made from the wages of a worker paid by the month or the week for time not worked on a public holiday.

3. Are employees entitled to the overtime rate for Public and Bank Holidays if they work from home – that is, they were scheduled to work and actually worked on a Public and Bank Holiday?
RESPONSE: All work done on Public and Bank Holidays other than Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday, which fall on a scheduled work day on which a worker would have worked but for the public holiday, shall be paid for at one and one-half times his ordinary rate of pay.

All work done on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday, which fall on a scheduled work day, that is to say, a day on which the worker would have worked but for the public holiday, shall be paid for at double his ordinary rate of pay.
If any worker works for and at the request of his employer on a public holiday or a Sunday or other agreed rest day or for more than nine hours in any day or 45 hours in any week, he shall be paid wages for such extra work at the following rates:
(a) on Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter Monday – at a rate of not less than double his ordinary rate of pay;
(b) on public holidays other than those set out in paragraph (a) hereof – at a rate of not less than one and one-half times his ordinary rate of pay;
(c) on Sundays or other agreed rest days – at a rate of not less than one and one-half times his ordinary rate of pay; and
(d) for hours worked in excess of nine hours in any day or forty-five hours in any week – at a rate of not less than one and one-half times his ordinary rate of pay.
4. If an employer is paying a stipend or a percentage of salary to employees, will the employees qualify for a benefit under the COVID-19 Unemployment Relief Programme?
RESPONSE: Details of the Unemployment Relief Programme indicate that financial assistance is offered to meet the needs of workers who have been terminated or laid off, specifically:
(a) Employees and self-employed persons who have lost their jobs and income as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, particularly
but not solely, the tourism sector will receive $150 every two weeks for a 12-week period.
(b) Persons who would have been unemployed prior to the
onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are now experiencing
even more difficult circumstances, will receive $100 every two weeks for a 12-week period.
(c) Additional information can be accessed from the following website: www.covid19.bz.

5. How does the Labour Act define temporary layoff?
RESPONSE: The Labour Act does not provide a definition for temporary layoff.

6. Is furlough provided for in the Labour Act?
RESPONSE: Furlough is not provided for by the Labour Act.
Furlough is defined as a temporary leave of absence for employees, which has been brought about by special circumstances, including economic conditions, on the part of the employer.

7. Can an essential worker refuse to work if the employer fails to provide adequate personal protective equipment?
RESPONSE: Belize being a member of the International Labour Organization and having ratified the Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 155), it is a requirement for employers to provide adequate protective clothing and protective equipment to prevent risks of accidents or of adverse effects on health and these measures should not be at the cost of workers.

In addition, please refer to Sections 13 (2) of Statutory Instrument 38 of 2020:
• “An employee whose assigned tasks can only be discharged at the place of employment is required to attend for work at that place unless otherwise permitted by the employer as a part of the employer’s measures to combat the risk of transmission of the COVID 19 at the place of employment.”

8. If an employee has been designated as an essential service employee and that employee falls within the “high-risk health category for COVID-19” or the employee is predisposed to a serious medical condition, should the employee report to work?
RESPONSE: The employee should make sure that he or she discusses the matter immediately with his or her employer. It should be made clear that the employee should seek medical advice from his or her physician.

9. If a medical professional or a public health professional has been quarantined as a result of his or her direct exposure to the coronavirus, should the employee be paid a salary?
RESPONSE: The Ministry of Health has advised that persons who suspect that they have been exposed to the coronavirus should immediately contact the Ministry of Health or its agencies.

Section 131 of the Labour Act makes provision for sick leave with pay once the employee is eligible, that is, where any worker has been employed by the same employer for an aggregate of not less than sixty days in the preceding 12-month period. Under the Act, the maximum sick leave period with pay is 16 days.
1. In addition, the Social Security Act also provides for Sickness Benefit and more specific to COVID-19, the Social Security (Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 – gazetted 28th March, 2020. If the person qualifies under Section 131 of the Labour Act and the Social Security Act, he will be paid for the sick leave period.

10. Is termination notice still required during this state of emergency/COVID-19 public health pandemic?
RESPONSE: Please refer to Section 37 of the Labour Act, as it relates to Notice Period for Voluntary Termination of Contract.
• In accordance with Section 37 (i) of the Labour Act, as cited below, it is a mandatory requirement that termination notice be served by the party, employer or employee, who wishes to terminate the employment contract – even though the employer or the employee can waive the right to receive notice, as per Section (37) (3) (d) of the Labour Act.
• “The notice of the termination of a contract of employment for an indefinite period may be terminated either by the employer or by the worker, without assigning reason therefor, by giving to the other the notice for the period specified in subsection (2) of this section.”
Also, termination notice shall not be served by an employer while the employee is on leave (e.g. vacation leave, maternity leave, study leave). Please see Section 37 (4) of the Labour Act below.
• “A notice of termination under subsection (1) of this section, shall not be given by an employer during an employee’s period of absence on any lawful leave granted.”

11. How should employees due maternity leave during the state of emergency/COVID-19 public health pandemic be treated? Is the company expected to pay the full 14-week maternity leave benefit during the current COVID-19 circumstances?
RESPONSE: It is mandatory that maternity leave be paid by employers in accordance with the Labour Act, once employees are eligible.
Section 177 (1) of the Labour Act clearly states:
• “In any public or private industrial or commercial undertaking or in any branch thereof, or in any agricultural undertaking or any branch thereof a female worker shall be entitled to a total of fourteen weeks’ maternity leave which shall be on full pay. Maternity leave shall be taken as follows.”
Also, Section 177 (3) of the Labour Act clearly states:
• “In the case of a female worker who is entitled to maternity benefits under this section as well as under the Social Security Act, Cap. 44, such worker shall receive maternity benefits under the Social Security Act, Cap. 44, and in addition be entitled to be paid by her employer the difference, if any, between the maternity benefits under this section and those accruing under the Social Security Act, Cap. 44.”

12. If an employee chooses to resign during the state of emergency/COVID-19 public health pandemic, what is the employee’s obligations and what is the employer’s obligations?

RESPONSE: If an employee chooses to resign from his or her employment, the employee has an obligation to serve notice to the employer in compliance with Section 37(2) of the Labour Act.

Once the notice is accepted by the employer, the employer has an obligation to pay all terminal benefits due in accordance with the Labour Act. These benefits may include vacation leave and severance.

13. What is an employer’s obligation if the employer terminates an employee during the state of emergency/COVID-19 public health pandemic?
RESPONSE: If an employer terminates the contract of an employee, termination benefits should be paid in accordance with the Labour Act. For example: Notice Pay, Vacation Pay (if the worker has earned vacation that has not yet been used or paid), Outstanding Wages, and Severance Pay (only if the worker has worked a minimum of five years):

• Section 37 of the Labour Act refers to Notice period of terminate
• Sections 128 and 130 (1) of the Labour Act and sections 12 and 15 of the Shops Act refers to Payment for Holiday (Vacation Leave)
• Section 96 of the Labour Act refers to Payment of Wages
• Section 183 of the Labour Act refers to Severance Pay

14. Can an employer force an employee to take vacation leave during the state of emergency/COVID-19 public health pandemic?
RESPONSE: Please refer to Section 127 (3) of the Labour Act, as it relates to vacation leave.
Specifically, Section 127(3) clearly states that:
• “The annual holiday shall be given and taken in one period, or if the employer and worker so agree, in two separate periods and not other-wise.”

15. If an employer terminates his or her staff and pays all their benefits and then rehires them, would the employee’s rehiring be deemed as continuous employment?
RESPONSE: Please be guided by Section 184 of the Labour Act.
Section 184 (9) provides that:
• “Acceptance of severance pay by an employee shall terminate the continuous period of employment.”

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