The Chilean government passed new legislation to enable a safe and gradual return to the workplace. The new legislation introduced several measures including an obligation for employers to purchase compulsory individual health insurance associated with COVID-19 for employees carrying out work completely or partially in person. Other measures include an obligation to implement an occupational health safety protocol (the “protocol”).
The legislation entered into effect on 1 June 2021, and is expected to remain effective for as long as the health emergency stays in force. The health emergency was issued on 5 January 2020, by the Chilean Ministry of Health to enable the government to pass any legislation aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The new law introduced changes aimed at enabling a safe, gradual return to work on the employer’s premises. The most relevant changes include the following.
COVID-19 compulsory individual health insurance
Individual health insurance must be purchased by the employer for all employees who carry out work completely or partially in person. Employers are not required to purchase a COVID-19 insurance policy for remote workers. The new insurance should cover health (hospitalization and rehabilitation) and death (up to UF 180) expenses resulting from a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. Employers must purchase the COVID-19 insurance within the following time frame:
- For employees currently working partially or completely in person, insurance must be purchased within 30 days after the policy is officially regulated and available.
- For newly hired employees or former teleworkers, insurance must be purchased within 10 days from the day they start performing their work partially or completely in person.
The insurance policy contracted must provide coverage for 12 months. If the COVID-19 health emergency is still in force at the end of the insurance term, employers are required to purchase a new COVID-19 insurance policy or renew their existing one. The insurance contract is prepaid for one year and should not be canceled. If an employee resigns or is terminated, even if they begin a new job with another company, coverage must continue for the unused portion of the contract and the new employer will be exempt from purchasing individual health insurance for the new employee until the expiration of the previous insurance policy.
The insurance premium should be paid in full in one single installment by the employer for a maximum of UF 0.42 per employee per year.
Occupational health safety protocol
Employers carrying out on-site work when the law came into force are required to prepare an occupational health safety protocol in accordance with the standard protocol prepared by the agency administering the occupational accident insurance that employers are affiliated to, based on the instructions of the Chilean Social Security Superintendence. Employers may seek the advice of the agency they are affiliated with when drafting and implementing the protocol. The protocol must include certain minimum requirements such as daily temperature testing, safe physical distancing measures, water and soap availability, sanitization, etc.
Employees may not resume in-person work activities at the employer’s premises until a protocol is implemented, which must be within 10 days from the new law’s entry into force.
Employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 will be entitled to a fully paid sick leave of up to 10 days for as long as the law is effective, payable from the first day. All other sicknesses will continue to be paid from the fourth to the tenth day with a three-day waiting period that is not paid.
For the duration of the health emergency, employers are required to implement a remote work policy in accordance with the provisions of the Chilean civil code so long as:
- The work duties can be performed remotely.
- Employees consent to the remote work policies.
- Employees or those they care for have an underlying health condition that would expose them to a higher risk of severe COVID-19. Employers will be required to reassign such employees to other tasks that do not involve regular contact with people that do not work within the workplace. In-person work may be resumed after employees’ agreement and without salary reduction.
Employers who do not comply with the new obligations may face fines or be ordered by the Labor Board and the health authority to shut down their workplace until full compliance is achieved. In addition, employees who have been infected with COVID-19 will be entitled to bring legal action for damages and compensation against employers who did not comply with the new obligations. In addition, employers who have not contracted the COVID-19 insurance will be liable for the payment of all amounts that would have been covered under the COVID-19 policy.
This article was written in collaboration with Lilienfeld Insurance Brokers