For members


Can your boss in Norway make you take a Covid-19 test? 

Employer organisations are asking the Norwegian government to clarify whether staff can be ordered to test for Covid due to fears that current advice could lead to a surge in employee absences. So, what are the rules?

Can your boss in Norway make you take a Covid-19 test? 
A Covid-19 test being prepared. Employer organisations want to be able to demand that workers test themselves for Covid-19. Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

Why do Norwegian employers want to demand staff get tested for Covid? 

Norway’s government has asked everybody showing symptoms of respiratory infections to stay at home. This has lead to more staff being unable to come to work. The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) has said that this has also lowered the bar for employers having to pay out for sick pay. 

“The prerequisite for being entitled to sickness benefits is that you are unable to work. But then we take into account that the health authorities say that you should stay at home when you have mild cold symptoms, that means that the threshold for when you should be home from is lower than before the coronavirus,” Director of the NHO, Nina Melsom, told public broadcaster NRK

Ove Andre Jakobsen, a restaurant manager in Grünerløkka, Oslo, said the advice that those with respiratory symptoms should stay home could cause chaos in industries where working from home isn’t possible. 

“There will simply be a crisis if people have to stay at home because they have a little sore throat or headache,” Jakobsen said. 

As a result, employer organisations in Norway are lobbying the government for the power to demand employees test themselves for Covid-19. 

The Enterprise Federation of Norway (Virke) has backed up the NHO’s position that businesses should be able to demand employees to get tested for the virus. 

“The authorities must give clearer signals that employers can demand that employees take a corona test. The general advice to stay at home when you feel sick is challenging, and now we risk a situation where employees who could actually work call in sick,” Stian Sigurdsen, director of Virke, told NRK. 

What does Norway’s government say? 

State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs Vegard Einan told NRK that that employees shouldn’t be forced to be tested and they should instead do so on their own volition

“We can not think that the employer should demand that employees test themselves. Throughout the pandemic, we have relied on trust. Trust is glue in society. Therefore, we must have confidence that the employee will test themselves if they have symptoms such as sore throat, fever, headache, impaired general condition or have lost their sense of taste and smell,” Einan explained. 

What does Norwegian law say? 

Simployer which provides human resources assistance and expertise on employment law say that employers are more or less unable demand that workers get tested for Covid unless it poses a risk to life for customers and other members of staff. 

The reason for this is because Covid testing comes under the category of health, with plenty of legal mechanisms in place to protect the privacy of employees. 

“The employer can not demand that the employee be tested for Covid-19. The requirements in section 9-4 of the Working Environment Act are that the test is imposed by law or regulation, that the position involves a special risk or when the employer deems it necessary to protect life or health,” Simployer’s legal HR and management consultant Ragni Myskvoll Singh said in an article for the site

Essentially this means that testing can only be demanded in special cases where lives could be put at risk. This is then balanced against the employees right to privacy and any contractual or collective agreements that may be in place. 

Employers can instead ask workers to get tested with it being up to the member of staff to decide for themselves. 

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For members


EXPLAINED: What is a Norwegian collective bargaining agreement? 

Workers in Norway will undoubtedly have heard about collective bargaining agreements, especially if they are unionised. But what is meant by the term, and how do they work? 

EXPLAINED: What is a Norwegian collective bargaining agreement? 

A good work-life balance, high wages, and generous vacation time are some of the many benefits that lure foreign workers to Norway. 

However, a lot of these rights aren’t protected by Norwegian laws. Instead, worker’s regulations are a mixture of agreements between the country’s trade unions and employers, and government legislature. 

Working life in the country can best be summarised as a system of tripartite cooperation where employers, employee organisations and the government work together on matters regarding employment in the country. This is also referred to as the ‘Norwegian Model’.

“Norway is a pretty unionised country, and the regulations surrounding working life in Norway are mainly based on a mixture of laws and collective agreements,” Jan Olav Andersen, union leader for the Electricity and IT Association (ELogIT Forbundet), explained to The Local.

READ MORE: What foreign residents in Norway should know about workers’ unions

To decide on the rules and regulations that will govern working life, trade unions negotiate with employers’ organisations every few years to develop collective bargaining agreements which determine everything from wages to parental leave. In Norwegian, these are called tariffavtale.

Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated throughout the spring, and negotiations for some of the most prominent sectors will regularly make the domestic headlines. Before the negotiations, unions will typically announce what they expect from the talks. This year, employee organisations have said that solid salary growth is expected, due to a high cost of living, inflation and low wage rises throughout the last few years. 

The agreement itself is a contract which regulates employment conditions, for example, stipulating that all employees with a particular job title must receive a salary within a specific pay band, as well as holiday allowance, overtime pay, working hours, and other benefits.

The breakdown of these negotiations leads to strikes and lock outs. Industrial action is a legal part of the Norwegian working model, provided they are announced and not unsanctioned. 

As a result of the strength of the collective bargaining agreements, more than two million people are part of unions. However, some unions have much higher membership rates than others. For example, the service industry has a much lower union membership than the municipal sector, which is heavily unionised. 

Workers in unions do not need to negotiate over salaries, and if a worker is in a union, their contract will be regulated by a collective bargaining agreement. Unions cover both the public and private sectors in Norway. 

“We negotiate collectively at both a national and a company level. If you are not a member of a union, then you will have to act on your own, as we used to say, ‘alone we beg, together we negotiate’,” Andersen said.