Bulgaria's COVID-19 State of Emergency measures bill received initial parliamentary approval

Bulgaria

In the wake of Bulgaria's March 13 law that places the country in a State of Emergency until April 13, the Bulgarian parliament is about to adopt a Bill on the Measures During the State of Emergency, which will implement a variety of new measures in response to the COVID-19 epidemic and create a clear action plan during the state of emergency. 

The new measures most relevant to business, which will apply for the duration of the state of emergency, include:

Prohibition of mass gatherings

Now, as a result of the Bill, all forms of mass gatherings are prohibited. Further to measures passed earlier, visits to the shopping centres and malls are banned, except for pharmacies, food stores, bank and the insurance offices located there. All other shops will be closed.

The food and entertainment industry also face restrictions. All bars, amusement parks and gaming spots, gyms, bars, coffee shops, cinemas, theatres must remain closed. Fast food and other restaurants are only permitted to perform home deliveries.

Work-from-home policy

Employers must introduce a work-from-home (WFH) policy where possible. If WFH cannot be applied, the employers must ensure that adequate anti-virus measures are applied, such as air filtration, disinfection protocols, instructions on hygiene, etc.

Through amendments to the Labour Code, employers are permitted at their discretion to suspend the operation of their business, partially or entirely, or just the work of some of its employees. In that scenario, employers may put the affected employees on forced paid leave. (If the employees have no paid leave entitlement, the leave would be unpaid). Employers must approve the holiday requests of certain categories of employees, such as mothers or single fathers of children below 12 years or disabled children and pregnant employees. Employers may reduce working time as well. If employers have been forced to suspend their activity as a result of an order by a state authority, employees should be paid 50% of their salary by the employer, but no less than 75% of the minimal salary. If employers resolve the suspensions, employees are entitled to be paid 100% of the salaries.

In addition, all forms of trainings and secondments in the country or abroad are prohibited. The state authorities and administrations continue to work with increased hygiene measures. WFH may be introduced for all government employees or some of them as necessary.

Suspension of terms and other measures related to the judiciary

Previously, the Supreme Judicial Council temporary suspended most proceedings on criminal, civil, commercial and administrative cases. The Bill now stipulates suspension of all procedural terms on administrative, litigation, arbitration and enforcement proceedings. Only terms related to criminal proceedings continue to run. These measures relate to a recent decision of the Judges’ Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Council, which recommended that all scheduled open court hearings on cases that are not considered an emergency should be rescheduled and new cases should not be opened during the state of emergency.

All public auctions by private and public enforcement officers should be cancelled and the initiation of enforcement actions against individuals such as freezing bank accounts, salary or pensions should be temporary suspended.

The measures do not provide for suspension or interruption of statutes of limitations.

Notary certifications arе limited to urgent ones, whereas the Notary Chamber will ensure at least one notary public for each region.

Finally, the Bill also stipulates suspension of all procedural terms related to the work of the Commission for Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Assets, irrespective of whether the proceedings are related to conflict of interest or confiscation claims.

The first reading of the Bill, at which it will be debated and approved in its entirety, is scheduled for today, 18 March 2020.Certain amendments might be introduced in the second and final reading by the Parliament, which is to take place on 20 March 2020. The Bill will enter into force on the day of its promulgation in the State Gazette, which is supposed to happen as soon as possible after that. All measures in the Bill will apply until the state of emergency officially ends. Additional restrictions may be imposed by order of the Health Ministry when deemed necessary.

Fore more information on Bulgaria's response to the COVID-19 crisis, contact your regular CMS source or local CMS experts.