Nina Boteva, Attorney-at-Law
Nina Boteva Law Office (Sofia, Bulgaria).
Nina Boteva: phone: +359 888 53 52 72, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Valentin Kamenov, Legal Counsel
Nina Boteva Law Office (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Contact: phone: +359 882 37 67 33, e-mail: email@example.com.
Specific legal information on COVID-19 legislation from Nina Boteva Law Office - Link
The state of emergency in the Republic of Bulgaria regarding the coronavirus threat was announced on 13 March. In this regard was adopted the Law on Measures and Actions State of Emergency, announced by a decision of the National Assembly as of March 13, 2020, which was promulgated in the State Gazette, issue 28 of 24.03.2020.
In case of imminent danger to the life and health of the citizens, an emergency epidemic situation is declared by a decision of the Council of Ministers upon a proposal of the Minister of Health based on a risk assessment by the Chief State Health Inspector.
The coronavirus pandemic has provoked legislative changes in the Health Act. COVID-19 is added to the list of diseases that are grounds for compulsory isolation and hospital treatment.
1. INTERVENTIONS AND RESTRICTIONS
1.1 Legal basis
The Law on Measures and Actions State of Emergency Act provides for a number of restrictions to ensure the prevention, limitation and control of the spread and infection of the COVID-19 virus for the period of 13 March until the end of the state of emergency.
Basically, the epidemic measures are as follows:
Visits to amusement and gaming halls, discos, bars, restaurants, fast food establishments, drinking establishments, cafes, patisseries and major shopping centers – type MOL, are prohibited, with the exception of banks and insurance offices, grocery stores and pharmacies . However it allows restaurants and fast food restaurants to deliver food to respective home address in compliance with the hygiene requirements;
All teaching activities in all schools, universities and all other training centers are prohibited. Where possible, distance learning is introduced;
Visitation of children in kindergartens, as well as any group activities with children and students are forbidden;
Any kinds of mass events, including sports, cultural, entertainment and scientific events are forbidden;
Planned pediatric and female medical consultations and examinations, including immunizations and organ transplants, are prohibited. Visits to hospitals and prisons cannot be made;
Training and business trips in the country and abroad are forbidden, as Bulgarian citizens who plan to travel abroad are obliged to take out medical insurance.
The Act stipulates that the National Coronavirus Operational Center has the right to envisage more severe measures than those mentioned above. For example, even before the Act was finally voted in parliament, the National Coronavirus Operational Center had envisaged more severe measures than those described above - for instance:
from midnight on 20 March visits to parks, urban gardens, playgrounds and facilities in open and closed public places are prohibited;
the police authorities must set up checkpoints at the entry and exit roads of the regional centers and check the purpose of the citizens' journey;
it is forbidden for persons under the age of 60 to visit grocery stores and pharmacies from 8.30 am to 10.30 am every day.
In addition to the aforementioned measures, it should be noted that all procedural time-limits in pending judicial, arbitration, administrative and enforcement proceedings have to cease, except in criminal proceedings.
All public sale procedures are terminated, and the imposition of liens on bank accounts of individuals and on remuneration and pensions is prohibited. Restrictions on notarial certification are also provided, and only urgent notarial certificates are allowed. In addition, the Notary Chamber of the Republic of Bulgaria must provide one notary on duty for each notary area.
As for employers, they should introduce a remote form of work where possible. If this is not possible, employers should ensure that hygiene measures are implemented.
1.2 Border and Visas
Paragraph 7 of the Emergency Measures Act provides for the period of validity of the following documents for residence of foreigners, in accordance with Art. 59 of the Law on Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria:
permission for long-term residence of a foreigner in the EU ;
residence permit for a foreigner permanently resident in the Republic of Bulgaria;
residence permit for a permanent resident - member of a Bulgarian citizen's family;
residence permit for a permanent resident member of the family of an EU citizen;
residence permits for long-term and permanent residence, with the indication "beneficiary in accordance with Article 3 (2) of Directive 2004/38 / EC";
"Union citizen's family card" of a long-term and permanent non-EU citizen of a EU citizen;
Certificates of long-term and permanent residence issued to EU nationals, nationals of States Parties to the EEA Agreement, nationals of the Swiss Confederation who are entitled to free movement under concluded international treaties with the EU,
In case the above referred period expires within the term- 1 January 2020 to 31 October 2020 such term shall be extended with 6 months.
1.3 Prohibition of crowds
Public events and gatherings of more than 2 persons, are prohibited.
In the case of gatherings of up to 2 persons, a distance is required of at least two metres when outdoors and at least one meter when indoors must be maintained between the individual persons.
The restrictions were limited until 30 June 2020 for the time being.
1.4. Amendments to the Law on Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria
Paragraph 8 of the Emergency Measures Act, which was introduced in the National Assembly on March 16, provides for the following amendments to the Law on Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria:
A long-term resident of a foreign country to whom the authorized long-term residence expires within the term of a declared state of emergency may enter the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria without a visa;
The right of long-term or permanent residence of a foreigner in the Republic of Bulgaria shall not be waived if, in the event of a state of emergency, he / she is found to have been absent from the territory of an EU Member State for a period of more than 12 consecutive months.
2. SUPPORT OF BUSINESSES
2.1 Extension of deadlines for reporting and payment of corporate and personal income tax
The Law on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency, announced by a decision of the National Assembly as of March 13, 2020, promulgated in the State Gazette, issue 28 of 24.03.2020, introduced extended deadlines for declaring and paying the various types of taxes.
The 2019 annual reporting on corporate income tax, expenses tax, gambling tax, merchant vessel operation tax are extended until 30 June 2020 from the standard deadline of 31 March 2020. The term for payment of the taxes due has been extended to 30 June as well.
Personal income tax returns and underlying personal income tax for 2019 for persons engaged in business activities as traders within the meaning of the Commercial Act, including sole traders, as well as farmers, are due by 30 June 2020. (The standard deadline was 30 April 2020). In case such persons file tax returns and pay the outstanding tax by the end of 31 May 2020, 5% discount on the taxes due can be enjoyed.
The publication of the annual financial statements for companies at the Trade Registry is extended until 30 September 2020.
The 2020 advance instalments are still due. Entities will be able to report the size of such instalments by 15 April 2020 either by filing the annual corporate income tax return or filing for the amount of the advance instalments only.
The standard 5% discount of the amount due on real estate taxes and vehicle taxes will be available upon prepayment of the whole amount for the 2020 liability until 30 June 2020.
2.2 Financial support of the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by the COVID-19
The Government of the Republic of Bulgaria has approved the Portfolio Guarantee Program to support the liquidity of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by the COVID-19. The implementation of the Program is entrusted to the Bulgarian Development Bank AD, which has already signed agreements with the first four credit institutions that begin work on a Program to ensure interest-free loans. These are Investbank, International Asset Bank, Municipal Bank and First Investment Bank.
The implementation of the Program is financially secured with BGN 500 million. The Program is open to all sectors. It is applied to the whole territory of Bulgaria, and it is expected that the sectors most affected by the crisis will benefit – these are mainly trade, services, transport, tourism, hotel and restaurant businesses, logistics, export and others. Eligible borrowers are micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in accordance with the Law on SMEs registered in Bulgaria, which have adverse economic consequences from the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The eligibility criteria are:
Decrease in turnover from the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019 (based on the financial statements of the company);
Existence of receivables from customers that have not been paid / amounts not paid to suppliers after 01.03.2020 (based on the financial statements of the company);
Discontinued import supplies required for the enterprise's activity - after 01.01.2020, export contracts canceled (based on certificates and documents submitted by the company);
Sickness and self-isolation of employees, overall reduction in the number of employees, closed production facilities, premises and offices (based on certificates and documents provided by the company.
The deadline for applying under the program is 31.12.2020. The maximum amount of credit to SMEs is up to BGN 300,000 for working capital, and the grace period for payment of interest and principal amount is up to 36 months.
2.3 Standstill period concerning the monetary and non-monetary consequences of COVID-19
The State of Emergency Act was initially set to last a month and subsequently extended by amendments to the act as of 9 April ("Amended Act"), to end on 13 May 2020. In compliance with the law, the Bulgarian government is implementing a package of measures directed to businesses and individuals to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. The Bulgarian parliament introduced a standstill period concerning the monetary and non-monetary consequences which arise from payment default under all type of contracts, among other measures in the Act on the measures and actions during the state of emergency ("State of Emergency Act" or "Act"). As a result of the Act, remedies relating to payments under the following types of contract are brought to a standstill:
Loans or other forms of financing (factoring, forfeiting and others) provided by banks or financial institutions; and
Operating and financial lease agreements.
Typically, both of these types of contracts would involve periodic payments.
2.4 Amendments to the Law on the Commercial Register and the Register of Non-Profit Legal Entities
At the end of April 2020, the National Assembly of Bulgaria adopted amendments to the Law on the Commercial Register and the Register of Non-Profit Legal Entities (hereinafter only the Law or LCRRNPLE). The amendments to the Law aim on the one hand to reduce the administrative burden for businesses and on the other hand to create the prerequisite for the establishment of a Centralized Administrative Information System for submission of annual financial statements and statistical data. This system provides for the integration of the information systems of the National Revenue Agency, the National Statistical Institute and the Registry Agency. By integrating these systems, the business will have the obligation to submit data to only one institution, unlike the present moment - the same data are being submitted by the same person to different institutions.
The amendments to the LCRRNPLE provide that as of 1 January 2022, there is no state fee for announcing annual financial statements in the commercial register and the register of non-profit legal entities. From that date, applications for the disclosure of annual financial statements and annual activity reports shall also be submitted only electronically.
Changes in LCRRNPLE stipulate that as of 24 April 2020 until repeal the state of emergency by the Council of Ministers it is possible to be introduced temporary measures to protect the production of food produced in the Republic of Bulgaria, the trade with it and placing it on the market in store chains. A person who violates the requirements is subject to a pecuniary sanction at the amount of BGN 15,000 to 25,000, and in the case of a repeated violation - a pecuniary sanction at the amount of BGN 30,000 to 50,000. Penalties are issued by the Executive Director of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency or by the Director of the relevant Regional Food Safety Directorate. In addition, the Government may, by an act, impose a temporary ban on the import of certain foods from non-EU countries, subject to international treaties to which the Republic of Bulgaria is a party.
3. SUPPORT OF THE JOBMARKET
3.1 COVID-19 and its impact on employment legal issues
The Law on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency, promulgated by a decision of the National Assembly on March 13, 2020, introduced amendments to the Labor Code. They are mainly related to the possibility of work from home or performance of tasks from distance during the state of emergency, regardless of the consent of the employee. Thus, only the place of work changes, without altering the other conditions of the employment contract.
The rest of the changes to the Labor Code during the state of emergency are expressed in the ability of the employer to suspend the work of all or part of the enterprise or only of individual employees for the entire period of the state of emergency or part of it. If the employer has taken such measures, he or she shall be entitled to grant paid annual leave to the employee without his or her consent. This possibility is also given in respect to an employee who does not yet have an 8-month work experience with the employer (regardless the provision in the Bulgarian law that only persons who have worked for at least 8 months with the same employer are entitled to such leave ). The employer is also allowed to establish part-time work for employees during that period, however only if they have previously worked on a full-time basis.
Regardless of the measures taken by the employer in relation to the activity of the enterprise, it should be noted that:
Time spent on paid or unpaid leave by an employee is recognized as work experience;
For the period of suspension of work (for all or part of an undertaking or as regards certain employees), the employees are entitled to the full amount of their gross salary.
3.2 The latest changes of COVID-19 Act in respect to employment remuneration
The Law on Amendments to the Law on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency, promulgated by a decision of the National Assembly of 13 March 2020, entered into force on 9 April 2020. The amendments not only change some of the existing texts, but also create completely new provisions.
Such new text is the one in Art. 24 of the Law on Amendments, according to which the deadline for the adoption of internal rules under the Law on Measures against Money Laundering (LMML) ceases until the state of emergency is repealed. Prior to the introduction of the state of emergency (13.03.2020), according to § 6 of the LMML, all persons obliged to implement anti-money laundering measures and who have adopted internal rules in connection with them should bring the latter into line with the national risk assessment. The deadline for revising the internal rules in accordance with the requirements of the national risk assessment is 6 months from the date of the publication of the national risk assessment (09.01.2020). In other words, the deadline is 9 July 2020. This means that, given the two-month period of emergency (13.03. - 13.05.2020), the deadline for adopting internal rules on anti-money laundering measures is extended to 9 September 2020.
One of the significant changes in the Emergency Measures and Actions Act is that related to § 6 of the Act. Prior to the enactment of the Law on Amendments to the Law on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency (April 9, 2020), under § 6, the State, through the National Social Security Institute, assisted employers by transferring 60 percent of the amount of the gross income, based on the data of the income for January this year. The funds are transferred by bank to the respective employer within 5 working days on the basis of written information provided by the Employment Agency and are at the expense of the State Unemployment Fund. In this case the employer is assisted in paying workers' salaries, however the employer should pay the full amount of the social security contributions due. With the amendments of the Law on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency since 9 April 2020, employers can be assisted (those who meet the relevant conditions stipulated in the respective Decree of the Council of Ministers), not only in paying a part of the salaries, pointed out above, but also with the payment of the social security contributions due. The amount of this assistance is 60 percent of the social security contributions payable at the expense of the employer.
3.3. Employers’ compensations
On 1 April 2020 in the State Gazette was published Ordinance № 55 laying down the conditions and procedure for payment of compensation to employers in order to preserve the number of employees in the period of state of emergency, announced by a decision of the National Assembly of 13 March 2020 (hereinafter referred to as Ordinance № 55). Two weeks after the promulgation of Ordinance № 55, the Council of Ministers in the Republic of Bulgaria amended the same one.
Ordinance № 55 was adopted in order to assist the employers in the state of emergency, which discontinued in whole or part of the work in the enterprise or of their employees, as well as when the employer has introduced part-time work in the enterprise or in its unit. Where such discontinuance of work has occurred, employers are entitled to compensation in order to preserve the number of the employees in the enterprise.
Compensation amounts to 60 percent of the amount of the income for January 2020 and the contributions due from the employer to any employee affected by the employer measures. The receiving of the compensations by the employers is related to the following condition - employers shall retain the employment of their employees after the expiry of the period during which the benefits are paid. Thus, if the employer receives compensation for one employee within one month, then the employer will be obliged to keep that employee for at least one more month after the payment of the compensation ceases.
It should be taken into account that the payment of compensation to employers is allowed for the period during which the enterprise ceased its activity, however no longer than 3 months.
Ordinance № 55 enumerates the cases where compensation should not be paid, that is in case:
employees did not have an employment relationship with the employer before the date of the state of emergency;
employees are on unpaid leave, temporary disability leave, pregnancy and childbirth leave when adopting a child up to 5 years of age or raising a child up to 2 years of age;
employees for whom the employer receives financing in respect to salaries and social security contributions from: 1. the state budget, funds from the European Structural and Investment Funds or 2. other public funds.
Ordinance № 55 sets out in detail the criteria which each employer must meet in order to receive compensation. One of these criteria is that the employer has to pursue an economic activity that is listed in Annex № 1 of Ordinance № 55. This means that not all employers will be able to benefit from the right to compensation, just those who are most affected by the emergency measures put in place.
4. FINAL MEASURES
4.1. The Bulgarian Government rescinded the state of emergency
The state of emergency in Bulgaria imposed due to the coronavirus continued until 13 May 2020. After that date The Bulgarian Government rescinded the state of emergency, however maintained a number of anti-epidemic measures. The latter are currently scheduled to be observed until 14 June 2020. As a result, the Bulgarian Parliament adopted a Law amending the Health Act (hereinafter the Law / Act), which was published in the State Gazette on 14 May. Of particular importance is the prescribed two months period after the repeal of the state of emergency (13 May), in which:
all public sales announced by the state and private bailiffs are suspended. After the expiration of this term, the public sales are rescheduled, for which no fees and expenses are due;
no restraints are imposed on bank accounts of municipalities;
no interest and penalties are charged, the obligations cannot be due prematurely and the contracts cannot be terminated due to non-performance – in case there is a delay in payment of loan obligations of natural persons and legal entities to credit institutions. Notwithstanding this, the rule does not apply when the financing of the natural persons and legal entities is done by subsidiaries of the banks, including when the receivables are acquired by banks, financial institutions or third parties;
the municipal councils may adopt decisions for reduction or complete exemption from payment of rental installments and payments for use of state and municipal property provided to natural persons and legal entities;
the provisions of the Public Procurement Act do not apply.
The Law also stipulates that the Bulgarian Development Bank will manage the respective funds from the European Structural and Investment Funds during the programming period 2014-2020, however only when there is a special decision of the Council of Ministers in Bulgaria.
In the field of tourism the Act provides for subsidies to Bulgarian tour operators. Until 13 May 2022 every Bulgarian air carrier is entitled to a state subsidy of 35 euros for each seat on the aircraft. The condition is that the aircraft operates charter flights to the Republic of Bulgaria for the purpose of tourism and the flights have a capacity of not less than 100 seats. The Law stipulates that the summer season in Bulgaria will start on 1 June, and the concessionaire (tenant) of the beach is obliged to provide umbrellas and sunbeds to visitors with reduced prices of at least 50%, taking into account last year's prices or maximum prices in the concession agreement.
The Act stipulates that all deadlines that have ceased to run during the state of emergency declared by the State of Emergency Act of 13 March 2020 shall continue to run after 20 May 2020.
The Law also proclaims that the deadline for submitting documents for prolongation of the long-term residence of foreigners in Bulgaria is extended. If the term of a foreigner with a long-term residence expires within three months from the rescission of the state of emergency – until 13 August, he/she has the right to apply for an extension of residence by that date.
The Act has adopted changes in the Labor Code- the unpaid leave of up to 60 working days, used in 2020, is considered a work experience.
The Law extends the period within which the Minister of Finance should make compatible the Law on Corporate Income Tax with the Regulations for Application of the Law on Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses and relevant regulations of the referred to Law. Harmonization of the legal framework between the above-mentioned normative acts shall take place within one month upon cease of the state of emergency – that is until 13 June.