Yes, there is a new type of leave available to all employees in the Maldives. For convenience, we will call it “Covid leave”.

Covid leave refers to a set of various forms of paid leave available to employees in certain circumstances, defined by the law. It is available as a right to all employees of the country, irrespective of industry, sector or vertical, and applies equally to employees in the public or private sector.

The position of law

The law that created these forms of leave is loosely referred to as the ‘Covid Law’. Its citation is the Public Health Emergency Act 2020. It is published in the government gazette as Law Number 20/2020 on 22 September 2020.

The Covid Law is a special measures legislation with overriding effect. It  deals with a varied list of subjects – some of which already have regulating legislation– but is intentionally placed above every other piece of legislation to provide special measures to deal with the chaos created by the pandemic.

The law also has an additional function of providing stop gap measures to deal with subjects or circumstances which have not been adequately captured in our current laws, and need legislative cover to validate acts carried out during the pandemic.

Essentially, it overrides every other law (where there exists one) and fills in for any legal vacuum (where there is none).

Covid leave forms

Covid leave, granted by this superior legislation, takes precedence over the Employment Act and employment contracts – that is, it overrides the employment law and is read into the employment contract.

The intention is clear: granting Covid leave to deal with employees who may be bitten by COVID-19 or caught in COVID-19 related circumstances.

The provisions dealing with Covid leave are found in chapter 2 of the law.

Leave due to travel related quarantine

If an employee is to quarantine after arriving in the Maldives from overseas or having travelled from a specific island in the country, the employer must grant them paid leave, without the need for a medical certificate.

The law says a quarantine order issued by the competent authority[1] shall be sufficient evidence to sanction the leave.

Leave due to travel restrictions

If an employee is prevented from arriving at their place of work due to travel-related restrictions imposed by the competent authority[2] preventing travel between an island (which is the current location of the employee) and the island where the employee is to report for work, the employer must grant them paid leave, without the need for a medical certificate.

Giving prior notice to the employer of their inability to travel to work due to travel restrictions and supporting it with evidence of travel restrictions being in place shall be sufficient to sanction the leave.

Leave due to onset of symptoms

If an employee has an onset of COVID-19 related symptoms and is asked to quarantine by the competent  authority, the employer must grant them paid leave, without the need for a medical certificate.

The quarantine order issued by the competent authority[3] shall be sufficient evidence to sanction the leave.

Leave due to testing positive

Where an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and is asked to isolate for treatment either at a facility, their home or any other place, the employer must  grant them paid leave, without the need for a medical certificate.

Evidence that an employee has tested positive and is asked to isolate for treatment, or the employee has received treatment from a medical facility shall be sufficient evidence to sanction the leave.

Leave due to family member testing positive

Where a dependent family member of an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and is receiving treatment, and the employee is to care for that family member either at home or a facility, the employer must  provide them paid leave, without the need for a medical certificate.

An isolation order issued by the competent authority[4] that the family member has tested positive and is to isolate for treatment shall be sufficient evidence to sanction the leave.

Covid leave superior

Section 8 of the law[5] is clear that the various forms of leave highlighted above are granted over and above, and in addition to (not in substitution of) those provided in the Employment Act or any other specific law regulating the employment of the employee in question.

Additionally, the law is clear that the grant of Covid leave shall not affect the various other types of leave to which an employee may ordinarily and otherwise be entitled to under the Employment Act or any other specific law regulating the employment of that employee.

The law goes even further to say that a single employee may actually seek Covid leave for being placed in COVID-19 related circumstances more than once. In fact, the employee so placed shall be able to utilize this law to ask for leave as many times as may be required for being placed in COVID-19 related circumstances described above.

For example, an employee may first be bitten by a travel restriction, and a few weeks later may be subjected to quarantine, and a few weeks still later may have to care for a dependent family member – entitling the employee for Covid leave on three separate occasions falling within the circumstances defined in the Covid law.

A sunset law

In addition to being a special measures legislation, the Covid Law is created as a sunset law – that is –  with a set deadline for its demise.

The continuation of the law is tied closely to the existence of the declaration of public health emergency in the country on 12 March 2020. The Covid Law is designed to set and expire 60 days from the date the public health emergency is withdrawn.

 

By MN

Photo: Courtesy Mihaaru

 

 

 

 

[1] Competent Authority is the director general of public health, a statutory position created by the Public Health (Protection) Act of 2012 [Law Number: 7/2012] [17 December 2012] and can include any officer duly authorized or designated by her.

[2] Same as above.

[3] Same as above.

[4] Same as above.

[5] Public Health Emergency Act 2020 s8