The government has agreed in principle to make it easier for employers to dismiss staff who refuse to get vaccinated or tested for coronavirus, or who decline to provide proof of either. The move would most likely only be in place in job areas with the highest coronavirus risk, such as the health-care sector.
The decision follows one made a month ago, which placed responsibility of getting vaccinated in the hands of the employer.
The relevant government order is likely to be officially approved this Thursday, and will make terminating employment contracts easier for employers in the case of staff members refusing to present certification on vaccination or recent negative test results, or who decline to get vaccinated or take a regular test.
Employers should foot the bill for ongoing testing, as a health and safety measure necessary for work, health minister Tanel Kiik says, though in some cases the reorganization of work or a requirement to wear a mask may suffice, depending on the sector in question.
Tanel Kiik said that: "In social work, for instance, tighter restrictions may be justified."
"In this case, the risk is bigger with workers who, while they may meet fewer than 50 people in one day, this may include people whose immune systems are often weaker, as they may be elderly patients," Kiik said.
"This means employees can be requested to get vaccinated, as has been done, for instance, by the Tallinn ambulance service, in order to minimize risks pertaining to the workplace and continued operation as well as for patient safety more specifically," Kiik added.
"In the case of extensive spread of the coronavirus, the situation where an employee comes into contact with more than 50 people is deemed a position with heightened infection risk and in these situations, presenting proof of recovering from COVID-19, vaccination or a negative test result is warranted," Kiik went on.
Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform) told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Tuesday evening that an employee dismissal would be the last resort, however.
Lauri said: "An employee being fired because he or she is not suitable for the job is actually the very final option, and looking at the current economic situation, and the mood of companies, it is also unlikely that an employer will relinquish their staff very easily."
A recent theater production had to be shelved after a single employee refused to get vaccinated.
Regulations in force since the start of this week require all participants – staff and customers alike – to provide proof of vaccination, recent negative test results or proof of recovery from the virus, if an event is to have more than 50 people (indoors) or 100 people (outdoors) taking part.
An "event" includes eateries and sports events and centers, as well as cinema and theater shows.
The new measure was adopted Thursday at a time when both Kiik and the coalition as a whole has been facing questions about the pace of the vaccine program and struggle with the pandemic in general. One member of the cabinet, culture minister Anneli Ott (Center), hit controversy recently after stating that getting vaccinated should be a matter of personal choice, adding she would not disclose her own vaccination status.
The 50-person limit on indoor events without vaccine checks can also be lowered, if stricter safety requirements are merited, Tanel Kiik said.
This article was update to include comments by justice minister Maris Lauri.
Editor: Andrew Whyte