1. My employer said I will not be paid a salary because there has been no business throughout the month:

During a pandemic, some businesses may experience a loss or reduction of income which in turn may affect its obligations to employees. However, where possible, employers are encouraged to make provisions for employees and convey business decisions or changes to employees to reach a compromise. Where an employer is unable to meet its obligations, it can consider the unpaid salary as a debt owed to the employee which can be paid at a later date when the inflow of income resumes at the normal rate. The employee/employer may also consider an unpaid leave during the affected period and both parties can agree that the employee will return to work when the business resumes normal business activities.

2. Can my employer reduce my salary during the pandemic?:

An employer may renegotiate the salaries of employees based on its resources and prevalent circumstances. The pandemic has had a far reaching impact on businesses and as such may be considered a justifiable reason for an employer to suggest pay cuts for its employees. However, employers must ensure that their dealings in this regard are as transparent and fair as possible. The International Labour Organization has encouraged employers struggling to meet their obligations to negotiate such pay cuts and enter into arrangements, where possible.

3. Can my employer terminate my employment because of the pandemic?:

The provisions of our labour laws and the decisions of the National Industrial Court are to the effect that an employer can terminate an employment contract, provided such termination is effected in line with the terms of the contract and any enabling law that may apply.

4. Can my employer temporarily lay me off because of the pandemic?:

The pandemic may qualify as one of the circumstances where employees may be laid off because of apparent economic realities, provided proper procedure is adopted. Exercising the option of laying off workers temporarily can work to the advantage of the employee in the sense that the employee may look forward to resuming the employment when business activities are restored for the employer. However, it is advised that any measure taken at times like these must be officially communicated and documented.

5. I am afraid of going to work and contracting the Covid-19 virus, am I entitled to a salary if I stay home?:

Due to the pandemic, certain restrictions on movement have been put in place ranging from total lockdowns to state enforced curfews. No employee would be expected to be at work if same would contravene state directives regarding safety during the pandemic. However, where restrictions have been lifted and businesses have been encouraged to re-open, an employee would be required to be at work to be entitled to pay, despite having certain fears, provided that the employer has put measures in place to ensure the employees safety, in the circumstance. However, if the employer proposes a remote work structure where same can be effective, an employee working in this manner is entitled to a salary.

6. I am afraid of going to work and contracting the Covid-19 virus, can I use my sick leave and/or annual leave in lieu of going to work?:

A sick leave as the name implies can only be used when an employee is actually ill. Regarding taking an annual leave, it may be possible to do so but the employee should also understand that in these present times the employer may also suspend or request that leave applications be taken in a particular order.  Irrespective of the fears an employee may have, taking a sick leave or annual leave is a short term solution as the leave can only last for a limited period. The appropriate step to take would be to discuss such fears with the employer, with the hope that a compromise is reached (for example – working remotely) and in the least the employer is able to provide safety measures for employees. 

7. Can my employer deduct my annual leave entitlement or enforce unpaid leave during this Period?:

Just as salaries can be renegotiated at times like this, employers may also renegotiate an employee’s leave entitlement to a fair amount taking into consideration its financial standing and employee expectations. Employers round the world are exploring compulsory leave without pay rather than termination of employment contracts, that way, employees are likely to resume work when circumstances improve. There is no hard and fast rule towards determining whether an employer can enforce an unpaid leave at times like this, best international practices may require that in certain circumstances, the employer provides some form of sustenance for employees during the period of leave.

8. My employer is forcing me to work under unsafe conditions so I am more likely to contract the Corona virus:

Every employer is mandated to provide a safe work environment and ensure that all its employees comply with laid down directives that would ensure the safety of all. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has also advised that businesses have an important role to play in protecting their employees from the Corona virus. An employee in this circumstance should follow the prevention guideline by the NCDC.

9. I have a pre-existing condition or compromised immune system so I am more vulnerable to the contracting the virus but my employer is requiring me to work:

Every employer is mandated to provide a safe work environment and ensure that all its employees comply with laid down directives that would ensure the safety of all. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has also advised that businesses have an important role to play in protecting their employees from the Corona virus. An employee in this circumstance should follow the prevention guideline by the NCDC.

10. I can not resume work because there is no one to watch my kids since the schools are closed:

Under normal circumstances, it is the duty of a parent to ensure the care of their children while at work. However, in this pandemic, where it is not practicable for parents to put their children in a creche or hire a nanny because of health and safety concerns, an employer may consider providing the option of remote working to affected employees or making other arrangement for the welfare and safety of employee’s children. The employee may also consider negotiating an unpaid or reduced pay leave with the employer.

11. I was on sick leave / annual leave / maternity or paternity leave during the lockdown period, does this overlap with the lockdown period:

In considering whether the time officially taken away from work overlaps with the lockdown period, one must consider the purpose of such leave and whether same was achieved. For example, the purpose of maternity leave is to allow the mother recover from the strains of childbirth and to bond with her baby, the question to be asked therefore is whether such purpose has been achieved. Where the period of lockdown has prevented an employee from achieving the purpose the leave was intended for, the employer may negotiate an additional period with the employer. In all, each case must be considered on its own merit and a fair decision reached.

12. Can I have access to my pension savings due to the pandemic?:

Under the Pension Reform Act individuals under the age of 50, who disengage from employment and are unable to secure another employment within four (4) months of disengagement, can make withdrawals from their retirement savings account. Other instances where a person is allowed to make withdrawals include where the person is too sick to work or develops a mental or physical disability. Therefore, if a person has been out of work for a period exceeding 4 (four) months (whether or not it was caused by the pandemic) he/she can make withdrawals from their pension savings. Also, a government directive at times like this may enable employees access their retirement savings account.

Disclaimer: Please note that the content of this FAQs is solely for general information purposes only and should in no way be construed or relied on as legal opinion. The responses also do not exhaust the legal rights of an employee or employer. Please contact us if you have any questions on this publication.