Asia-Pacific employment law bulletin 2022
Developments in the light of COVID-19
At the end of 2021, the Royal Government of Cambodia declared the reopening of the Kingdom of Cambodia, including businesses of all sectors without any restriction subject to compliance with health and safety measures. During this recovery period, employers have been focussed on issues relating to return-to-work, vaccination and COVID-19 testing.
Return to work
In the absence of statutory travel restrictions, each employer has the right to arrange when its employees will return to work and whether work from home or hybrid work arrangements can continue. However, employers remain subject to health and safety requirements, which include ensuring a clean workplace and maintaining standards of hygiene and sanitation to the extent necessary for the health and safety of the employees.
Further, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has issued several guidelines on protective measures to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace, namely the Notifications on Further Reminder on Preventative Measures against COVID-19 at Factories, and Enterprises, which recommend each employer, among other things, to:
- establish an “Occupational Health and Safety Committee” or “COVID-19 Committee” or group of employees to disseminate, and instruct employees on hygiene, and preventative measures against COVID-19 on a daily or weekly basis;
- keep records of persons entering and leaving workplace and maintain such records for any future inspection by the authorities; and
- implement preventative measures such as temperature checks, social distancing, distribution of masks and sanitizers in the workplace etc.
Sub-decrees have also been prescribed, such as Sub-Decree 37 dated 12 March 2021 on Health Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 and Other Severe and Dangerous Contagious Diseases, which provide detailed measures on social distancing and workplace hygiene. These measures address both employers and employees. Another noteworthy regulation is Prakas 081, which was issued by the Ministry of Health on 22 March 2021, on Mask Wearing and Social Distancing Obligations during the COVID-19 Community Outbreak, which reiterates the obligations on enterprises to ensure that mask wearing and social distancing on their premises are properly enforced.
Cambodia has no regulation imposing mandatory vaccination for employees in the private sector. Several vaccination related regulations, including Sub-Decree 37, state that vaccination is only undertaken on a voluntary basis. However, some categories of employees, such as public officials, officials in the legislative, executive and judicial branches, and the military are required to be vaccinated under Sub-Decree 66 on the Obligation to Get Vaccinated.
Nonetheless, local rules might differ. For example, the Phnom Penh Municipality issued Instruction 027/21 on the Obligation to Show COVID-19 Vaccination Card when Entering Academic Institutions, Markets, and Business Areas in Phnom Penh dated 05 October 2021 (“Instruction 027”). It requires all persons aged 18 years or older to show their COVID-19 vaccination cards when entering or leaving academic institutions, State-owned and private markets, restaurants, food courts, coffee shops and other business areas. Owners of the above businesses are obliged to assign their employees to monitor and comply with this requirement.
In light of the above, while there are still no explicit regulations requiring employees of specific industry to get vaccinated, the obligation to show COVID-19 vaccination cards under Instruction 027 implies that employees of those business are required to be vaccinated.
Nonetheless, an employer should not use an employee’s refusal to get vaccinated as a ground for employment termination. The Criminal Code of Cambodia (“Criminal Code”) has criminalised certain discriminatory acts in the context of employment, including the refusal to hire or the termination of the employment relationship based on ‘state of health’. As vaccination is still undertaken on a voluntary basis, and Notification 022/21 on Returning to Work and Payment of Salary to Workers of Reopened Enterprises/Establishments after the Lockdowns End, dated 8 May 2021 states that vaccination status may not be used as a condition prohibiting (or otherwise) employees from returning to work, termination of an employee’s employment due to vaccination status could expose employers to liabilities and discrimination claims.
The employer has the right to formally arrange for mandatory COVID-19 testing as part of the measures against COVID-19 at workplace (the “COVID-19 Rules”) in order to ensure the health and safety of all employees at the workplace. It is recommended that the COVID-19 Rules include the applicable disciplinary actions in case of non-compliance. To ensure effective implementation, once formulated, the COVID-19 Rules must be widely disseminated among employees.
Data protection concern
There is no specific data protection law in Cambodia. Instead, data protection provisions spread across various pieces of legislation, such as the Constitution, the Civil Code and the Criminal Code. For instance, Article 10 of the Civil Code provides that personal rights include the rights to life, body, health, freedom, name, dignity, privacy and other rights relating to personal benefits or interests. However, the definition of personal rights is quite broad, and the laws do not specifically define and distinguish what data would be considered sensitive. The determination of personal rights categories rests with the Cambodian courts. In this regard, employees’ private information including information regarding vaccination could be deemed as within the domain of personal rights and protected under the law. Hence, any processing of such data requires consent from the employees concerned.
Since issues around the COVID-19 are still evolving, the formulation or implementation of any COVID-19 related program or policy must be carefully undertaken. Employers are advised to stay vigilant and consult with all applicable regulations before considering to impose any COVID-19 policies/requirements in the workplace.