QUARANTINE STATUS AND HEALTH EMERGENCY DECLARATION
- WORKDAY AND SPECIAL LICENSES (Office Closures? Curfews? Who is allowed to operate at this time? What are considered “essential” businesses?)
- State of Emergency declared until April 30.
- Suspension of commercial activities until April 30, excluding Essential Activities, such as: supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies, commercial establishments dedicated to selling raw or cooked foods and those dedicated to the food production cycle.
- Most government offices are closed to the public and all courts and jurisdictional offices are closed, except for the criminal jurisdiction regarding imprisonment hearings.
- The businesses allowed to continue with their commercial activities must reduce their personnel on working hours and send home the ones identified as vulnerable to COVID-19. The same applies for governmental workers.
- All other businesses can keep their employees working remotely from home, if possible, which is also the same for some government offices.
- Curfew from 5pm to 6am until April 30. The following were exempt from the application of the curfew and are authorized to transit on such hours: (i) persons dedicated to health services; (ii) persons with a medical emergency needing to get to a health center; (iii) duly identified persons working in private security; (iv) members of the press and other duly accredited media; (v) the personnel of the electricity distribution companies to attend emergency situations; (vi) urban and interurban vehicles dedicated to the transport and distribution of merchandise, supplies and fuel; (v) vehicles of companies and utilities that provide energy, water, telecommunications and solid waste collection services to exclusively deal with emergency situations; (vi) persons that work in ports and airports, in transit to or from their workplaces during curfew hours, provided they carry an authorized company identification; (vii) persons working in the food, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies industries, who are in transit to or from their workplaces during curfew hours, provided they carry an identification of a company authorized by the High-Level Commission for the Prevention and Control of the Coronavirus; and (viii) persons and vehicles destined for funerary services, exclusively when in service.
LABOR & EMPLOYMENT
- Has your country enacted any special labor or employment measures to deal with Covid-19?
Health and Safety: Social distancing measures has been enacted, such as closing of operations of companies that requires physical presence and are not engaged Essential Activities, implementation of remote work and adopting schedule and shift work flexibility.
The measures enacted with regards to companies that may continue operating, for which employers are responsible, are the following:
- Isolate susceptible workers.
- Guarantee adequate safety, health, hygiene and working environment conditions (for example, access to alcohol-based gel, soap, sinks, disposable towels, water, etc.).
- Adopt control and protection measures putting collective protection before individual protection.
- Place posters promoting hand washing and respiratory hygiene according to the indications established by the Ministry of Public Health.
- Give updated information on the evolution of the disease and necessary instructions to workers on the measures to be taken in terms of protection.
- Take into consideration the condition of pregnant employees and high-risk personnel.
- Reduce the personnel working in physical facilities, to allow a distance of at least 2 meters between each worker.
- Mandatory use of face masks in the workplace.
Employee Support Program: The government created the Employee Solidarity Help Fund program (Fondo de Asistencia Solidaria a los Empleados – “FASE”), which we further explain in answer to question 3.
- Can employers suspend employment contracts during this Covid-19 health crisis?
Yes, companies with total or partial closure of their operations can suspend the employment contracts with the previous authorization of the Ministry of Labour. Up to this date more than six hundred thousand contracts have been suspended and most of them were included in the FASE.
- Are federal, state or local governments providing any type of financial assistance or support to employers and/or employees during this health crisis?
Yes, our Government created the FASE to provide a monetary contribution to affected employees during the months of April and May 2020.
FASE program consists of a contribution from the Government that will depend on the employees registered salary as of the month of February 2020 in the Social Security Treasury, equivalent to 70% of its salary, but which in no case will be less than RD$5,000.00 or more than RD$8,500.00. It is at the discretion of the employers to complete the remaining part of the salary or pay a proportion.
This contribution applies to suspended employees of companies with total or partial closure of their operations (excluding companies dedicated to Essential Activities), and non-suspended employees when the company remains in operation, as long as it does not suspend a single worker and belongs to the manufacturing sectors or is micro, small and medium-sizedcompanies, both, with the approval of the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Finance.
- What are the obligations of employers if the competent authority in your country issues a “quarantine” (or similar) order?
Companies of Non-Essential Activities must close or implement remote work (in the possible cases). They shall remain paying employees their salaries, if the employment contracts are not suspended.
- Can employers deny a worker access to the workplace if they detect symptoms of Covid-19?
Yes, they can and should according to the recommendations issued by the Ministry of Public Health.
- Can employers implement a mandatory screening program for Covid-19 symptoms?
- Are employees required to inform their employer if the Covid-19 test result is positive?
Yes, they must inform their employers.
- Can employers have a policy that requires employees to report if they or their co-workers have symptoms of Covid-19?
Yes, they have. As well, they must follow a protocol on these cases that should mirror the indications established by the Ministry of Public Health. In case there is a suspicious case, an isolated space must be set up to keep the employee while the public health authorities arrive.
- Can employers force employees to take vacation during the Covid-19 health crisis?
Yes, employers have this capacity. Also, the Ministry of Labour urge employers whose establishment will remain closed, to grant or advance paid vacation to employees, for the benefit of them.
Once the vacation period is over, the employers can suspend the employees, otherwise they must keep paying their salaries.
- Are employers released from the obligations of compensation in case a reduction of work force is necessary due to the health crisis of Covid-19?
No, they are not released and shall continue paying the salaries to those employees that are not suspended.
- If the ruling authority orders a temporary operational closure, can employers interrupt the accumulation of employment benefits during that period of time?
No, employment benefits and acquired rights are not interrupted during the closure of the establishment nor the suspension of the employment contract.
- Can employers negotiate or institute a temporary closure of the workplace or a temporary reduction of wages and benefits?
The Ministry of Labour recommended that the flexibility measures adopted by the companies do not interfere with employees’ salaries. Nonetheless, employers can reduce working hours, and temporarily and by mutual agreement with the employees, reduce the salary.
- If employees refuse to go to work, can their employment be terminated for abandonment?
In principle, the employment can be terminated. However, each individual case must be evaluated.
- Do employers have an obligation to inform health authorities or other relevant authorities of cases where their employees test positive for Covid-19?
Yes, they are. In those cases, the employers must inform the Ministry of Public Health and set up an isolated space to keep the employee while the authorities arrive.
- How does the principle of force majeure apply to contract law in your country?
Our Civil Code recognizes the principle of force majeure although does not explain its concept, which has been defined by the doctrine and by court law. In general, is a justified exemption from liabilities to a party in a contract which cannot comply with his obligations due to force majeure event.
Under court law, the following three conditions must be meet in order to consider an event as force majeure:
- Exteriority, which means an event no attributable to the debtor;
- Unpredictability, refers that the event couldn’t be anticipated when the contract was executed; and
- Irresistibility, meaning the event couldn’t be prevented during the performance of the contract.
- Can a party plead force majeure if the events relating to Covid-19 prevent that party from fulfilling its contractual obligations?
Yes. However, each case must be evaluated separately. Even if the situation generated by the Covid-19 has the character of external and unpredictable, the irresistibility condition must be evaluated and proved.
- Does the declaration of a state of emergency by the competent authority provide commercial agents with any relief from their obligation to comply with the contractual conditions of delivery or payment?
It will depend of the case, as indicated above.
- What remedies are available to companies in the event that they fail to meet their contractual obligations?
It will depend of the contract’s terms and conditions. In any case, and during this State of Emergency, an amicable agreement on whether suspend or terminate the contract is recommended, considering that all judiciary and extra-judiciary actions are suspended.
- Is there protection for small businesses in your country and can the local subsidiary of a foreign entity access it?
Our authorities have approved different economic measures to protect companies (including small business) aiming towards the flexibility of tax obligations during the State of Emergency period, such as exemption of the payment of Advanced Income Tax (Anticipo), extension of payment deadlines, as well as measures aiming to reduce the interest rates in the financial market, and provide liquidity to banking entities.
Additionally, as previously mentioned, FASE delivers a monetary contribution to affected employees during the months of April and May 2020, releasing the companies from the salaries’ payments.
All companies duly registered at the Mercantile Registry and the Tax Bureau can have access to such benefits, although some other compliance may apply depending of the commercial activity.
- Is the judiciary process operating in your country? If not, what processes are in place to allow companies to appeal to the judiciary if necessary, during the current health crisis?
The Council of the Judicial Power (CPJ) suspended all jurisdictional and administrative activities as well as deadlines (excluding criminal process initiated). The Alternative Dispute Resolution Center is also closed.
Only the Services Judicial Office of Permanent Attention of the Criminal Jurisdiction is operating, which will attend its ordinary cases (imprisonment hearings) and cases of habeas corpus and appeal for legal protection (Acción de Amparo).
TAXES AND FINANCIAL MEASURES
- Has your country issued any tax amnesty or aid programs because of Covid-19?
Yes, the General Directorate of Internal Taxes (DGII) granted an exemption on the payment of the Advanced Tax Income of the month of April.
- Has the deadline for filing tax returns been extended?
Yes, DGII granted extensions for the presentation and payment of the Personal Income Tax of natural and legal persons for the 2019 fiscal period and taxpayers included under Simplified Tax Regime, Sworn Declaration of Non-Profit Organizations, Informative Return for transactions carried out between Related Parties (DIOR) and payment of Asset Tax instalment.
Additionally, payment agreements deadline was automatically extended for 3 months for quotes due on April, May and June 2020. Penalties on outstanding tax debts are eliminated.
- Are tax refunds and other claims being processed in a timely manner?
No, they are not.
José Maldonado Stark (email@example.com)
Russin, Vecchi & Heredia Bonnetti
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