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Coronavirus: Powers of employers to deal with reckless behaviour of workers

In the public debate on the coronavirus, bold assertions from academics, doctors and other medical practitioners are often heard. For example, that the coronavirus would be no more deadly than the flu. Or that measures to combat the virus like wearing face coverings are unnecessary.

Struggling to deal with employees who are downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus, employers try to prevent damage to their reputation via Codes of Conduct. But prohibiting a doctor from expressing a negative opinion in public about care in general is going too far, says Barend Barentsen, Professor of Labour Law at Leiden Law School. ‘No matter how tasteless certain remarks might be, a total gagging order is of course out of the question.’

Recently, a message on intranet showed that the municipality of Rotterdam is keeping its public servants on a tight leash.   It has threatened to dismiss employees who do not comply with the coronavirus measures, even outside work: ‘You are a public servant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.’

According to Barentsen, Rotterdam is going too far here. ‘You cannot require public servants to serve as an example 100% of the time, including in their private lives.  That can only be expected of certain officials such as top-level public servants or those responsible for enforcing the rules. That said, withholding salary because an employee has to self-isolate due to irresponsible behaviour is allowed’, says Barentsen.

Read the full article (in Dutch) in newspaper NRC.

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