The recently enacted Quarantine regulations, among its more common features, clarifies penalties for employers who do not allow remote work for employees’ whose jobs can be performed offsite.
While Belize’s earlier regulations, such as Statutory Instrument (S.I.) No. 170 of 2020, left the interpretation a bit open as to whether or not employers had any obligations to implement remote-work protocols where possible, the latest S.I. No. 175 closes the door on any ambiguity by adding explicit penalties for employers and employees at the newly added Regulation 36. The new clause reads:
“Every employer of a business, office or establishment who contravenes regulations 9, 13, 14, 16, 17 or 19 commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of five thousand dollars.”
In the new S.I., remote work—which previously was outlined at rule 16—is covered at regulation 17, where the law calls on every employer “of a public or private business that is not an essential business” to “implement measures to allow their employees to operate remotely where that business is one which the duties of the employee are capable of being performed from the employee’s place of residence.”
Like its previous incarnations, the regulation’s “remote work” provision does provide an exception for those jobs that cannot reasonably be performed remotely; thereby, preserving the need for employers and employees alike to abide by the now standard COVID 19 protocols of physical distancing, mask wearing and regular hand washing.
Regulation 36, however, also levies the $5,000 fine on matters covered under five other sections of the Quarantine Regulations, which include the implementation of a “shift system” as covered under regulation 16, which states:
“For the purposes of preventing, controlling, containing and suppressing the spread of the infectious disease COVID-19, every employer of a public or private business that is not an essential business shall implement a shift system for the employees of that business.”
In addition to “remote” and “shift” work, the added clarity of Regulation 36 now also makes it clear that street vendors are likewise finable to the tune of $5,000, as this category of business (as in previous versions of the law) is covered at regulation 14, which also regulates the activities of restaurants, saloons and diners, and the like.
To be clear, previous laws like S.I. No. 170 likewise included a type of catch-all clause, which read as follows:
“Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of these Regulations for which no penalty is specifically provided is liable on summary conviction to a fine of five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) or to imprisonment for two (2) years.”
Therefore, it is possible for one to have argued that penalties were always present for offenders of the likes of Regulations 14, 16, and 17, but it appears that the advent of new Regulation 36 is intended to eliminate any grey areas.
The new provision also removes its forerunner’s reference to “imprisonment”, limiting penalties for first-time offenders to fines, and to fines and temporary, seven-day business closures for repeat offenders.