On 23 June 2021, the draft bill of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on the new SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance (SARS-CoV-2-Arbeitsschutzverordnung) was adopted. Basic occupational health and safety measures that have proven effective to date, such as contact reduction, the requirement to offer tests and the drawing up and updating of company hygiene policies, will be extended for the duration of the pandemic up to and including 10 September 2021. However, in view of the decline in the recent 7-day case rates, the Ordinance also provides for a few exemptions.
Employers will need to continue to observe the following key points from 1 July 2021:
In view of the ongoing reopening of companies, institutions and public authorities, employers are required to review and update the risk assessment with regard to any additional infection control measures required at the workplace. On this basis, they must define and implement infection control measures in a hygiene policy, for example by reducing room occupancy, regulating distances or using partition walls. Where this is not possible, medical masks must be provided by the employer. The SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance remains the most important basis for drawing up the company hygiene policy. The guidance issued by the statutory accident insurance schemes may be used as a source for more detailed industry-specific requirements.
Employers will continue to be required to offer rapid or self-testing facilities in their establishments at least twice a week, free of charge, to all employees who are not exclusively working from home. The Ordinance provides for exemptions from this requirement if the employer can ensure equivalent protection for employees by means of other suitable protective measures or can provide evidence of existing equivalent protection. According to the explanatory memorandum to the draft bill, the employer's obligation to offer tests can be waived for employees who have been fully vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19. Employees are not obliged to accept the testing offers or provide information to the employer about their vaccination or recovery status.
In future, the mandatory requirement of a minimum area of 10 m² per person in rooms with multiple occupancy will no longer apply. However, operational contacts and the simultaneous use of rooms by several people must continue to be reduced to the absolute minimum.
In the explanatory memorandum to the draft bill, working from home is mentioned as a suitable measure to reduce contact. However, the new Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance no longer provides for any further obligation on the part of the employer to offer this option to its employees. Since the obligation to offer working from home governed in Section 28b (7) of the German Act on the Prevention of and Fight against Infectious Human Diseases (Gesetz zur Verhütung und Bekämpfung von Infektionskrankheiten beim Menschen, IfSG) will expire when the so-called “Bundesnotbremse” (federal emergency brake) expires on 30 June 2021, employers will no longer be obliged to offer their employees the opportunity to work from home from 1 July 2021.