New requirement regarding documentation and reporting of serious incidents in the event of exposure to the Coronavirus
Given the ongoing proliferation of the Coronavirus, the Swedish Work Environment Authority has decided that all employers, regardless of the industry they operate in, must report occurrences of the Coronavirus in their workplace as serious incidents. In addition, suspected exposure at work must also be reported to the WEA as an incident. This decision was made in December 2020, and is more far-reaching than the WEA’s previous approach whereby the reporting obligations only concerned employers with a greater risk of exposure, such as healthcare providers.
The Swedish Work Environment Authority’s (WEA) new approach was communicated by way of an update to their Swedish website, but, as of this date, has not yet been reflected in the English version. Although the new approach has a major impact on employers, it has received little attention. A brief summary of the new requirement can be found below.
High-level details of the requirement
If an employee is suspected of having been exposed* to the Coronavirus at work, the employer must promptly report the incident to the WEA. The reporting requirement naturally applies henceforth, but also to incidents that occurred before December 2020. A report should only be made when the exposure occurred at work, which excludes e.g. travel to and from work. If it is confirmed, for example by a test, that the employee has indeed been exposed to the Coronavirus, the employer must take measures to avoid more workers being at risk of being exposed and must document the incident. The documentation should include details of who has been exposed, what type of work was carried out, and which type of infectious agent the employee was exposed to, and the employer must store the information for at least ten years.
As a starting point, an employer that does not report serious incidents to the WEA may be subject to penalties. However, the WEA has decided not to bring action against employers that failed to comply with the authority’s more stringent requirements prior to December 2020.
The requirement in practice and hands-on takeaways
Once confirmed that an employee has been infected by COVID-19, the employee must comply with the information requirement set out in the Swedish Infectious Diseases Act (Sw. smittskyddslagen). However, an employer cannot force an employee to undergo a Covid-19 test, and suspicion of an employee being infected is not enough for an employer to gain access to an employee’s health conditions. An employer must also comply with other relevant legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Swedish Employment Protection Act (Sw. lagen om anställningsskydd). Hence, an employer should make sure that:
- there are sufficient routines regarding communication between employer and employee, e.g. that the employee is encouraged to report suspected exposure of the Coronavirus at the workplace;
- risk assessments are continuously made and reviewed;
- there is sufficient ventilation and possibilities for the employees at the workplace to keep their distance and regularly wash their hands; and
- employees who have COVID-19 symptoms stay at home.
If you have any questions regarding the new requirement or other questions on employment law, please do not hesitate to contact our employment law experts.
Source: The Swedish Work Environment Authority, www.av.se
*“Exposure” means that the infectious agent reaches the employee, for example by inhalation or by contact with the eyes, nose or mouth.