Recently a group of employees who work at an insurance company call center agency and their families were confirmed to have been infected with the Coronavirus disease (“COVID-19”). In this connection, we highlight herein some of the measures that are being taken to mitigate the risk of infection with COVID-19 and potential legal issues employers with group facilities, such as call centers, can face when their workers become infected with COVID-19.
1. Health Authorities and Financial Authorities’ Guidelines
On March 12, 2020, the health authorities announced the “Business Place Intensive Management Guidelines for Prevention of COVID-19.” The main topics covered by the guidelines include, among others, “establishment of infection control systems in business places, stronger prevention and management, stricter management of employees, users and visitors, practice of social distancing, and immediate reporting and quarantining upon detection of suspected cases.”
In response, the relevant trade associations in the financial industry have collectively decided to implement the following measures to mitigate the risk of infection of COVID-19 at call centers operated by financial companies. First, financial companies are required to ensure that call center workers are separated from each other by a distance of at least 1.5m and that call center workers are separated by partitions with a height of at least 60cm. If the available space is insufficient to implement the foregoing separation and distancing measures, operators of call centers should implement measures such as shift-working, staggered working hours and working from home. They are also required to immediately conduct disinfection of all call centers and regularly conduct ventilation, and provide the workers with masks, hand sanitizers, thermometers and disinfection sprays.
2. Closure of Business Places in Special Disaster Regions
On March 15, 2020, Daegu and some of the Gyeongbuk regions were declared special disaster regions under the Framework Act on the Management of Disasters and Safety (the "Act"), and accordingly the heads of the local governments may declare certain business places, such as call centers, danger zones and order closure of such business places based on Article 41 (1) of the Act. If special disaster regions increase with expansion of COVID-19 infections, business places that are located in such regions may be subject to measures under the Act.
3. Potential Legal Issues Regarding Confirmation of COVID-19 on Call Center Workers
If call center workers are confirmed to have become infected with COVID-19, and if a correlation of the infection with their occupation can be proved based on relevant facts, it could constitute an occupational accident under the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act, and in such case, workers may claim against the company for compensation of damages that are not covered under the compensatory benefits of the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act.
Meanwhile, the “Business Place Response Guideline for Prevention of Expansion of COVID-19,” which was announced by the Ministry of Employment and Labor on March 10, 2020, provides that where an employee is hospitalized or isolated pursuant to Article 41-2 of the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, the employer’s cost of granting a paid leave is subsidized by the State through the competent National Pension Service branch, and upon receipt of such subsidy, the employer must provide the paid leave. If the employer otherwise orders employees to not work or temporarily suspends business as necessary for other reasons, the employer should pay suspension allowance to such employees.