Employers’ obligation to keep a record of employees exposed to the COVID-19 virus
As COVID-19 still roams in our midst, it is appropriate to remind employers in Finland about one particular obligation that has not been too widely informed. This virus has been categorized by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health as a biological agent that causes hazards or risks to safety or health. Therefore, this obligation in respect of keeping records of employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 at work will be applicable to all employers regardless of their size and the industry they operate in. The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act sets forth a specific rule regarding this in Sections 40 and 40a.
All employers should protect their employees against the exposure to COVID-19. What may be interpreted adequate protection will be defined on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind that a total protection against the possibility of an exposure may be impossible to achieve. Consequently, employers should have proper safeguards and risk assessments in place.
As COVID-19 is categorized as a biological agent, employers must keep a record of those employees with suspected or confirmed work-related cases of COVID-19. Work-related exposure does not require an illness, but a situation in which the worker has had a chance of becoming infected, for example, through clients, patients, students, or co-workers. The assessment evaluates the conditions of the exposure, such as the duration of the exposure, close contacts, the size of the room, ventilation, and the protective measures in place. For example, individuals who have been in a confined space or face-to-face less than two meters away from an infected person for a total of 15 minutes within a 24 hours period are regarded as exposed and thus to be recorded. However, if a co-worker meets an exposed employee after the workday only, the exposure is not considered to be work-related.
The record must include:
• the name and profession of an exposed employee;
• the employer’s industry and the work performed by the employee;
• information on the cause of the exposure to the extent known; and
• a description of how and when the exposure occurred.
For COVID-19 exposures, the retention period of the record is ten years, and it should be presented to the Occupational Health and Safety Officials upon request.
As this record includes personal data and forms a personal register, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) must also be followed accordingly. This means, among other things, that the record cannot be freely seen by everyone and that an individual employee has the right to see information about themselves.
Our Employment team will advise employers on all aspects of occupational health and safety and employee data protection.
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