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The Covid-19 pandemic, which broke out in the Wuhan province of the People's Republic of China in December 2019, affected the whole world in a short time, and in the last two years since then, it has accustomed everyone to the "new normal" in social and economic terms. Social distance rules, disinfectants, mask use and other measures, which were not of great importance for the majority of the society before the pandemic, became indispensable for the spread of the disease, and some measures and bans were envisaged by the public authorities in order to prevent loss of life. This situation has created radical changes in our working life and imposed certain additional obligations on the employer side.

At this point, we are witnessing that the measures implemented due to the pandemic have begun to loosen with the availability of various types of vaccines by pharmaceutical companies, the increase in the vaccination rate of the society and the decrease in the effects of the pandemic compared to the past. It should also be noted that this effect accelerates the return of employees to their workplaces.

In this direction, with the circular of the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Interior dated 04.03.2022, it was announced that many measures that were being implemented due to the pandemic were lifted. While each one of them is critical, the thing that drew the most attention was undoubtedly the one related to the "obligation to wear masks".

Has the Obligation to Wear Masks Have Been Completely Removed?

With the circular dated 04.03.2022, the following is stipulated regarding the use of masks;

-  From now on, the obligation to use masks will not be applied in open areas and closed places where social distance can be maintained and where appropriate ventilation conditions are available.

- On the other hand, until a new decision is taken; The obligation to use masks will continue to be enforced in closed places where the necessary social distance cannot be maintained between people such as schools, hospitals, cinemas, theaters, and in all kinds of public transportation vehicles (including intercity) such as buses, minibuses, shuttles, trains, subways, ferries, and planes.

As it is seen, it would not be a wrong interpretation to conclude that the use of masks continues for "closed areas where social distance rules cannot be applied and proper ventilation conditions cannot be provided".

What is the Latest Situation for Workplaces?

Although the measures taken by the public authorities have started to be relaxed gradually, some obligations of the employer in terms of the work environment provided for the employees continue. In line with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Law and the Turkish Code of Obligations, the employer has an “obligation to protect and watch over the employee”. This situation imposes a responsibility on the employer to ensure that the working environment is kept healthy and safe.

From this point of view, although the obligation to wear masks has been removed in open areas, the implementation of social distance rules in terms of closed areas and the provision of appropriate ventilation conditions still maintain their importance in terms of occupational health and safety. It is important to adapt the working environment to these conditions, especially in this period when the return to the workplace is also intensified.

Although the regulations mentioned above are for masks, it is beneficial to continue to implement other necessary measures in order to prevent the transmission of the virus (Performing risk assessments specific to the workplace, checking compliance with hygiene rules, positioning disinfectants at points that everyone can reach, establishing an order to maintain social distance in common areas, providing protective equipment for employees, announcing the precautions and warnings to be taken regarding the disease in places where everyone can see them, informing employees about risks, employing employees suspected of illness remotely, if possible, or giving these employees leave, etc.) with the control and supervision of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)  specialists. Otherwise, employees will be able to avoid working until appropriate conditions are met.

On the other hand, the Occupational Health and Safety Law imposes some duties not only on employers but also on employees. According to the law, employees are also obliged not to endanger the health and safety of themselves and their colleagues. Otherwise, the question of whether the employer has the right to terminate may be discussed. According to an opinion on this subject, the employment contract of the employee may be terminated by the employer for good cause, based on the reason that "the employee's endangerment of the safety of the job through his/her own will or negligence" which is regulated in the Labor Law. However, according to another view that we also agree with, it is stated that the employment contract of the employee can be terminated "based on a valid reason” in this case. In the case of valid termination, compliance with the principle of “termination is a last resort” will be critical.

As a result, it should be noted that the disease is still fatal, especially for certain risk groups, and necessary precautions should be taken to prevent this disease.

Detailed information about the precautions to be taken at the workplaces can be found in the "Frequently Asked Questions in the Scope of Combating Covid-19 in the Workplaces" guide of the T.R. Ministry of Labor and Social Security which can be accessed via the link below.