COVID-19 Guidance for Vietnam-law Employers: Remuneration Focus

COVID-19 undoubtedly has impacted your business or workforce in some way. The past period has been full of challenges for all employers as we all face the actual influence of this difficult-to-control global pandemic. Clearly, this is a unique and rapidly-developing situation.

In Vietnam, the Prime Minister formally issued Decision 173/QĐ-TTg declaring that the corona virus is an epidemic (issued 1 Feb 2020 and effective on same date).   With a focus on remuneration payment to employees during the epidemic season, this article is provided based on current laws and, where relevant and available, Government ad-hoc policy and guidance.

As ever, Employers are of course free to implement policies that are more favorable than the statutory minimum. Also, this is an area subject to change, potentially very suddenly.  We will endeavor to update this as possible.

  1. Salary payment for sick employee, regardless of regular sickness or positive result of Covid-19

Once an employee has illness symptoms or is feeling un-well and then stays home, please kindly see the various options as follows, which should be considered on a case-to-case basis.

Sick Leave under Vietnam’s Social Insurance regime (SI)

If an employee is sick and obtains a valid medical certificate evidencing same, the Employer can file this medical certificate with the SI and the SI will pay sick leave entitlements to the employee.  Such entitlement is equal to the lower of 75% of the employee’s regular salary or 75% of the SI cap.

With respect to quantity, the SI will pay up to: (i) 30 days/ year for those who have contributed to the SI fund for less than 15 years; (ii) 40 days/ year for those who have contributed to the SI fund for more than 15 and less than 30 years; and (iii) 60 days/ year for those who have contributed to the SI fund for more than 30 years.

In short, assuming Employer has contributed in full as required to the SI scheme (employee and Employer contributions) then such Employer is not required by law to pay salaries for employees on sick leave.

Sick Leave voluntarily offered by Employer, in addition to SI

The above is subject to any other policies and practices that Employer may, in fact, have in place that offer greater additional benefits to employees.  Some Employers voluntarily offer extra fully-paid sick leave to employees and, if such an arrangement is in place at your company, employees would be entitled to ‘use up’ any additional ‘paid’ sick leave entitlement before filing statutory SI claims.

Unproven sickness

Strictly speaking, the SI regime will only provide salary cover for employees with certified sickness.  Thus, an employee who is isolated to be assessed as to whether they are sick or not would not be covered by the SI regime as it stands now.  In such circumstances, it would be recommended that the Employer seek to reach agreement with the employee to pause work on a reduced salary (see item #2 below).

Relationship with paid annual leave entitlement

Under all circumstances, an affected employee would be entitled to apply to take their accrued paid annual leave entitlement first.

  1. Salary payment for those who have to be home because their child’s school is closed

Very upfront, we note that this reason for being home is not considered as sick leave or leave to take care of a sick child under the age of 7, both of which are permitted reasons for absence from work covered under Vietnam’s SI regime (as explain under item #1 above). In addition, as addressed above under item #1, unproven sickness would also fall under this category.

Strictly speaking, unless the employee is able to work from home due to his/her job description and the Employer was to agree with that, absence from work for this reason is considered either absence without permission or leave pursuant and subject to the Employer’s specific leave regime.

As such, the options for salary payment would be the below, in order of priority:

Option 1: the employee applies for paid annual leave until they use up their accrued annual leave entitlement.

Option 2: the employee formally pauses work as a direct result of epidemic and following negotiation and agreement with their employer on reduction of contractual salary during such period (Art. 98.3, Labor Code 2012) (see further at item #3 below).

Option 3: the employee and their employer discuss and reach agreement on unpaid leave (Art. 116.3, Labor Code 2012).  Agreement on this in principle, and length of any unpaid leave, is essentially at the discretion of the parties to agree.

  1. Temporary suspension of operations

For avoidance of doubt, temporary suspension of operations referred to here is a decision to temporarily pause the operations and not a decision to permanently close the business location(s).

From a corporate law perspective (Art. 200, Law on Enterprises), an enterprise is entitled to make a formal application to temporarily pause/ suspend its operations (up to a maximum 2 years).  This applies at all times, regardless of occurrence of any epidemic or not.  However, formal temporary suspension of operations is not a legal basis for Employers to unilaterally terminate employee labor contracts.  In other words, existing employment must be either maintained as normal, including with respect to payment of salaries, or employment relationships terminated lawfully on some other basis.

From a labor law perspective, epidemic is a legal basis for Employers to: (i) unilaterally terminate labor contracts pursuant to Article 38.1(c), Labor Code 2012; or (ii) maintain employment relationships but negotiate reduced salaries with affected employees (such amount not to be lower than the applicable regional minimum wage) for a specific period, pursuant to Article 98, Labor Code 2012.

At this time, Vietnam law appears to be silent on how employment matters are handled in the case where Employers are ordered by competent authorities to temporarily shut down operations as a result of epidemic.  The People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City (PC) recently issued orders to shut down all cinemas, bars and other entertainment venues at least until the end of March 2020 without providing any specific guidance on employment-related matters.

At present then, there is no real difference in practice between a temporary closure made at the decision of the Employer as a result of epidemic and one ordered by a competent authority.  In both cases, the initial starting point is that it would need to continue to pay contractually agreed amounts. However, as noted below, the Employer should consider discussing with employees about receiving a reduced salary, not to be lower than the applicable regional minimum wage (with no work duties to be performed).  If the alternative is the (lawful) right to unilaterally terminate employment, this may be an attractive option for affected employees. In other words, employees may be motivated to agree on the reduction (accept Employer’s proposal) because, if they do not, the Employer would have legal grounds to unilaterally terminate employment as a result of epidemic (subject to the generally-applicable 30 and 45-day advance notice requirement for definite and indefinite-term labor contracts respectively).

For your information, according to Government Decree 90/2019/ND-CP, almost all of the districts of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh Cities fall within Region 1 and the applicable regional minimum wage for 2020 is: (a) VND 4,420,000 per month for un-trained employees; and (b) VND 4,729,400 per month (i.e. an additional 7%) for trained employees.  This is approximately US$192 and $205 respectively. The minimum wage of other regions throughout the country would be a bit lower than that of Region 1.

Bottom line, despite the current laws, there might be a strong possibility that further ad-hoc regulation or policy may be issued by the Government that will affect the current status quo at law.  We will endeavor to keep you informed of any developments.

  1. Government’s guidance/ comments / indication recently about the current situation

As noted, the situation is complex and fluid.  It is quite likely that the Government will issue further policy/ regulatory guidance that will impact the current position outlined above.  At this moment, the main item of note is that the Prime Minister released the Directive No.11/CT-TTg on 04 March 2020 giving instructions to relevant agencies as outlined below.  While this is very general, it provides an indication of how things may develop so we provide it here FYI along with some initial comments.

 

  AGENCY ASSIGNMENT DM’S COMMENTS
1. Ministry of Labor (MOLISA) (i) To report on the labor and employment status in the enterprise;

 

(ii) To diversify methods of propaganda and solutions to motivate employees’ morale;

 

(iii) To support employees whose employments are terminated due to the influence of Covid-19;

 

(iv) To monitor the expat employees who come from the epidemic regions or pass by the epidemic regions; and

 

(v) to stop issuing new work permits for expat employee in a certain duration, then the Vietnam-based enterprise should be proactive to seek for alternative local employees to play roles of expat experts.

 

Item # (iii) recognizes the fact that epidemic is a legal basis for unilateral termination by Employers.
2. Vietnam Social Security To work with relevant authorities to provide guidance on temporary cessation of social insurance contributions for objects affected by Covid-19 until the end of June or December 2020, without calculating interest for late payment. Employers may be entitled to delay payment of social insurance contributions without being charged interest.

 

3. Vietnam Labor Federation To consider and guide the suitable time for collect trade union fees, so as to support enterprises affected by Covid-19. Employers may be entitled to delay payment of trade union fees.

 

 

For more information, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or Le Nhan at NTLe@duanemorris.com or >any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.