To support its subscribers during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, EPFO has now allowed its members to avail second non-refundable COVID-19 advance. The provision for special withdrawal to meet the financial need of members during the pandemic was introduced in March 2020, under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). An amendment to this effect was made by the Ministry of Labour & Employment in Employees’ Provident Funds Scheme, 1952 by inserting therein sub-para (3) under paragraph 68L, through a notification in the Official Gazette.
Under this provision, non-refundable withdrawal to the extent of the basic wages and dearness allowances for three months or up to 75% of the amount standing to member’s credit in the EPF account, whichever is less, is provided. Members can apply for a lesser amount also.
The COVID-19 advance has been a great help to the EPF members during the pandemic, especially for those having monthly wages of less than Rs. 15,000. As of date, EPFO has settled more than 76.31 lakh COVID-19 advance claims thereby disbursing a total of Rs. 18,698.15 crore.
2. Frequently asked questions relating to Covid -19 to be known to an employer
which are the COVID-19 vaccines that have been currently approved by the Indian Government?
The Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI), the national level drug regulator, so far, has granted approval to two vaccines for ‘restricted use in an emergency situation’. The two vaccines are: (1) COVISHIELD (developed by Oxford – AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India) and (2) COVAXIN (developed by Bharat Biotech).
Will the COVID-19 vaccines be provided to everyone simultaneously?
The Indian Government is carrying out the COVID-19 vaccination drive in a phased manner. The COVID-19 vaccines will not be administered to everyone simultaneously. As per the Operational Guidelines issued (available on www.mohfw.gov.in), the vaccine will first be given to the following priority groups: (i) healthcare and frontline workers; (ii) those about 50 years of age; and (iii) those below 50 years of age with comorbidities.
What is the CoWIN platform?
The COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network (“CoWIN”) system is a digital platform which is intended to help the Indian Government in planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the COVID-19 vaccination drive in India. At present, the CoWIN platform is being used by the Government and it has not yet been fully extended to the general public. However, it appears that the public may be allowed to self-register themselves on the CoWIN portal (after submitting requisite identification proof) and access limited features.
Is the vaccine mandatory?
No, the vaccine has not been made mandatory by the Government of India.
What is the involvement of the private sector at present?
Currently, the private sector is not involved in the vaccination drive. The entire process (including costs and manner of administration) is entirely controlled by the Government – however, this might change once the vaccines are made available to the general public.
Can an employer make it mandatory for employees to get vaccinated?
No. Given that the vaccination is voluntary and has not been made mandatory under law, an employer cannot insist that its employees undergo vaccination as a condition of continued employment.
Can an employer instruct employees to provide proof of vaccination?
Yes, an employer can require its employees to submit proof that he/she has been vaccinated. Any such vaccination-related data will qualify as ‘sensitive personal data or information under India’s extant data protection laws and an employer collecting, storing, or processing this data will be required to comply with all applicable data protection legislation.
Is an employer required to grant paid leave to employees who are scheduled to be vaccinated?
Currently, there is no specific Government notification or order in this regard. However, the market practice may dictate that employers start providing paid leave to employees on the days they are scheduled to be vaccinated in lieu of sufficient proof of vaccination.
If pursuant to an employer’s encouragement, an employee takes the vaccine and suffers adverse effects, will the employer be held liable?
It is unlikely that an employer will be held liable as long as the employer makes it clear that the vaccination is voluntary and the employer does not provide any misleading information to the employees.
Can an employer dismiss an employee if the employee refuses to take the vaccination?
It is highly unlikely that such a dismissal will be upheld by a court if the sole reason to dismiss an employee has been the employee’s refusal to take the vaccination.
Can the employer refuse ofﬁce access to employees who do not take the vaccine?
Yes, employers can refuse access to physical premises to any employee(s) they deem fit as long as such denial of access does not impede in the discharge of the employee’s formal duties and obligations.
Can the employer ask employees who have not been vaccinated to sit in a designated area of the ofﬁce?
Yes, this is possible. However, employers must ensure appropriate communication and the designated areas must satisfy all safety protocols and requirements.