When an employer provides living quarters for its workers, certain requirements apply to the accommodation.
Requirements regarding satisfactory living quarters
The law requires the living quarters to be satisfactorily constructed, fitted out and maintained. Important factors include size, furniture and fittings and fire safety. The standard of the accommodation must also be consistent with technological and social developments.
The living quarters must have satisfactory ventilation and must not be affected by wet or dry rot, damp or the like. Provision of living quarters on work premises or at the workplace is not acceptable. The living quarters must also be approved in compliance with planning and building legislation.
As a general rule, the worker shall have:
- his or her own bedroom with a window that can be opened
- a living room with chairs, sofa and TV. If the bedrooms are large, the leisure area requirement may be met by the bedrooms alone. If the bedrooms are small, a separate living room is required.
- access to a bathroom and toilet. For each 4–5 residents, there must be one lockable toilet and one lockable shower.
- a utility room for a washing machine and clothes drying facilities.
- a place for storing and preparing food
- a wardrobe or cupboard for storing clothing
- sufficient room for preparing and storing food, dining area, dining table and chairs
- clean and tidy living quarters
When ascertaining whether the living quarters are satisfactory, the employer must attach importance to the need for privacy and dignity as regards the number of residents and the potential for keeping the accommodation clean and tidy.
Bedrooms must be located so as to minimise disturbance of users, and should not function as access to other rooms. The bedroom must have a window that can be opened.
Workers must normally be accommodated in single rooms. This particularly applies to lengthy stays. Sufficient rest is important for recovering after work. This has a direct bearing on workers’ health and safety at the workplace.
The regard for privacy is also important. Rest and privacy are difficult to achieve if one has no place to withdraw to. It is not normally sufficient that workers only have sole use of the room for parts of the day, for example, when working two shifts, one at work while the other sleeps.
Double rooms may only be used for short stays. Such rooms shall be sufficiently large and have an adjacent living room.
Exceptions regarding seasonal workers in the agricultural sector
In the case of seasonal employment in the agricultural sector, up to four workers may be accommodated in the same bedroom. This exception applies to stays of up to 10 weeks involving seasonal employment.
Electrical installations, fire alarms and fire-fighting equipment must comply with current legislation. The electrical installation must be dimensioned for the number of residents and the use of electronic equipment.
There must be escape routes and emergency exits. When windows cannot be used as escape routes, leisure rooms and bedrooms must have two alternative escape routes.
When two or more workers share living quarters, house rules are appropriate. Such rules are to be drawn up jointly by the employer and the accommodated workers.
The house rules should include rules concerning:
- Cleanliness and tidiness
- Quiet hours
- Times for clothes washing
- Distribution of tasks
- Right to have guests
The list is not exhaustive, and must be adapted to the needs of the individual living quarters. Following a specific assessment, the Labour Inspection Authority may order that house rules be drawn up.
When an employer rents accommodation and makes this available, or provides or arranges living quarters, such living quarters must meet the requirements.
If an employer assists the worker in obtaining living quarters and the tenancy agreement is between the landlord and the worker, a specific assessment must be made as to whether the living quarters may be said to be made available by the employer. The employer must have a certain connection to the living quarters or to the landlord concerned.
These rules do not apply if an employer only mediates contact with one or more landlords. The requirements apply regardless of whether it is the employer or the worker who pays for the living quarters.
When many workers live together in a small area with shared facilities such as bathroom/shower/toilet, kitchen/dining area, common room and laundry room, the requirements for general infection control must be strict.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, such infection control rules must be made even clearer than usual, and they must be followed strictly. The employer must lay down clear rules for infection control to go with the house rules, and in consultation with the accommodated workers. The rules must be in a language which the workers understand.
Examples of measures:
- Follow the general infection control rules. Wash your hands often and thoroughly with lukewarm water and soap, keep a distance to the others living in the same place and cough into a tissue paper or into the crook of your elbow.
- Make sure there is at least one but preferably two meters’ distance to other people in the common areas.
The common areas must be thoroughly cleaned. Everyone is responsible for cleaning after themselves, but the employer must ensure regular careful cleaning in addition.
- If possible, the employer should make sure the workers can have food delivered to their accommodation, particularly if they are in quarantine after arrival in this country or because they have been in close contact with infected people.
- If one or more workers need to be isolated due to symptoms of respiratory disease, the person(s) in question must be given access to their own bathroom/shower/toilet and have their food delivered outside the door to their room. Before sending their dirty clothes to be washed, the clothes must be put into special laundry bags for contaminated clothes. A worker in isolation must not use the common areas.
If it is impossible to implement these or other equally effective measures, the accommodation is not satisfactory during the ongoing corona pandemic.
The Labour Inspection Authority does not oversee rent amounts except when so prescribed by general application regulations.
Rent may not be deducted from pay unless this is stipulated in advance by written agreement.
The right of the Labour Inspection Authority to inspect living quarters
The Labour Inspection Authority shall have free access at all times to any premises subject to the Act. This includes living quarters when provided by the employer.
If the employer is bound by a collective agreement, there may be further requirements regarding the living quarters beyond the requirements of the Act. The Labour Inspection Authority does not carry out supervision pursuant to collective agreements.
The Labour Inspection Authority supervises compliance with the requirements regarding living quarters and ensures that the living quarters are satisfactorily constructed, fitted out and maintained. In such supervision, the Labour Inspection Authority often cooperates with agencies such as the Fire Service and other municipal authorities.
Inspection of living quarters
Inspection may be notified in advance or may be unannounced. If the inspection is not notified in advance, the Labour Inspection Authority will attempt to contact the employer by telephone from the living quarters.
During inspection of the living quarters, the Labour Inspection Authority will interview the workers and, if possible, the employer. The inspection is carried out regardless of whether the employer is able to be present.
Follow-up of the inspection
Following the inspection, the Labour Inspection Authority will always send an inspection report to the employer. If unlawful living conditions are revealed, the Labour Inspection Authority will normally order the employer to correct unlawful living conditions by a given date.
If the undertaking does not comply with the order by the specified date, the Labour Inspection Authority may
- impose a coercive fine
- stop the use of the living quarters
Following the inspection, it may also be appropriate to inform the landlord of any deficiencies regarding the living quarters.
If serious breaches of the provision concerning living quarters are revealed, the Labour Inspection Authority may impose an administrative fine or report the employer to the police.
If the Labour Inspection Authority reveals that the living quarters constitute an imminent danger to the workers, the Labour Inspection Authority may stop the use of the living quarters.
Legislation concerning living quarters
Section 4-4 (4) of the Working Environment Act
Chapter 3 of the Workplace Regulations
Section 14-15 (2) (c) of the Working Environment Act