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COVID-19 and its effect on employment law in Mauritius

By Burty Francois and Khemila Narraidoo

In an attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19 in Mauritius, the government took the decision to extend the sanitary curfew until 15 April 2020. This was announced by the Prime Minister in a press conference on 30 March 2020. Employers around the world are facing similar challenges, dealing with government-mandated shutdowns, sick and self-isolating employees, homeworking arrangements and economical constraints.

Our employment team at Juristconsult Chambers remains committed to providing clients with legal advice in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic which is affecting businesses in Mauritius.

This brief highlights some recurring issues during this stressful situation:

Can an employer force an employee to take accrued annual leave that has not been taken?

The law provides that where an employer and a worker are unable to agree as to when the leave is to be taken, half of the leave period shall be fixed by the employer and the other half by the worker. The employer can, therefore, decide as to when the other half of the local leave is to be taken by the workers. During this pandemic period, it is being debated as to whether the employer can force the worker to take part of his local leave during this period. The law, as it stands at present, does not prevent the employer from deciding that the worker is to take half of his local leave during this current situation where there is a curfew.

Can an employer reduce the number of working hours as well as the salary of a worker during this pandemic period?

The number of working hours and the salary of a worker cannot, normally, be reduced. 

The law, however, provides for certain specific circumstances where an employer may require a worker to work temporarily for a time shorter than that specified in his agreement at a reduced remuneration. This is strictly subject to the approval of the supervising officer of the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations and Employment in Mauritius.

It is apposite to note that a worker, who is required to work temporarily for a time shorter than that specified in his contract of employment at a reduced remuneration, has the right to accept work from another employer during the time that no work is provided to him/her.

Can an employer require an employee to attend his place of work during this period of curfew?

One of the main provisions of the regulation pursuant to which the curfew order has been issued is that an employer may request an employee to attend work only if the employee would provide “strictly essential minimum services.” The employer has the obligation to make the necessary application to the Commissioner of Police for the issue of a work access permit and has to make sure that there is compliance with the statutory health and safety obligations under the law. In a communiqué by the Ministry of Labour, employees are urged to attend work where there is a valid work access permit in place. Failure by an employee to comply may lead to disciplinary action(s).

Can an employer make an employee redundant during this pandemic period?

An employer has to strictly follow the same statutory process laid down in the Workers’ Rights Act 2019 if he is to make an employee redundant during this pandemic period. The employer has to be able to demonstrate that there is a valid justification and reasonable cause for the proposed redundancy. In the event that a settlement is not reached between the employer and the employee, an application has to be made to the Redundancy Board by the employer before making an employee redundant.

Can an employer request an employee to work from home during this period?

The possibility to request employees to work from home is provided by the Workers’ Rights Act 2019. An employer may elect to change the place where the work is carried out provided it has given the necessary equipment to the employees.

Does the employer need to pay full salary to an employee during the pandemic period?

Even if an employee is not working during the curfew, the employer is bound to pay the full basic salary to an employee. In certain circumstances, an employer may deduct certain allowances (e.g. travel allowance if the employee is not coming to work).

Can an employer request an employee to perform work outside his/her usual scope of service if their main tasks are not performed during the pandemic period?

In exceptional circumstances, an employer may request an employee to perform other tasks. The hardship caused to the employee should be balanced with the operational needs of the employer.