How should the recruitment of Ukrainians be formalised?

The rules for employing Ukrainian citizens depend on when they arrived in Estonia and whether or not they were working here at the beginning of the war. Many companies are interested in offering jobs to Ukrainians fleeing the war, but a number of questions have arisen concerning the employment relationships of Ukrainians as foreigners.

The Ukrainian workforce is nothing unusual in Estonia. According to various sources, there were already about 27,000 Ukrainians working in Estonia before the beginning of the war. However, the number has increased sharply since and, as of now, more than 115,000 Ukrainian citizens have arrived in Estonia, of whom about 60,000 have remained in Estonia for a longer time. Many of these Ukrainians need short-term or long-term work. Here’s what to follow and remember when hiring Ukrainians.

Workers under temporary protection, short-term workers and short-term seasonal workers – why is it important to differentiate between them?

Recruitment of Ukrainians under temporary protection

The European Union has adopted an implementing decision on the temporary protection of Ukrainian citizens, according to which Ukrainian citizens and their family members who were residing in Ukraine before 24 February 2022 and who arrived in the European Union after that date can apply for temporary protection in the European Union (including Estonia). Temporary protection gives the right to apply for a residence permit. Once they have temporary protection and a residence permit, Ukrainians are subject to the same rules as other EU permanent residents – they have the right to stay and work in Estonia. When concluding an employment contract with a Ukrainian who has been granted temporary protection, all the same rules apply as when employing Estonian nationals – the employer must comply with the Employment Contracts Act, the minimum wage requirement, occupational safety requirements and other applicable legislation. Persons without temporary protection can also be given jobs, but they should be registered as short-term workers.

It is important to keep in mind that Ukrainians are also required to speak Estonian. This means that a Ukrainian working, for example, in the service sector should have an Estonian-speaking colleague working at the same time, who can support the Ukrainian if necessary, to guarantee the right of customers to service in Estonian.

It is often assumed that the temporary protection regime for Ukrainians is the same as an official refugee status. These two things should not be confused – everyone fleeing war can apply for refugee status, regardless of their country of origin. The process takes up to six months and applying for refugee status does not come with the right to work in Estonia. As Ukrainian citizens have been granted special privileges and benefits to live and work in Estonia, they are not advised to apply for refugee status. It has been officially announced in Estonia that temporary protection will be extended as long as the war continues.

The situation is more complicated for those Ukrainian citizens who were already in Estonia before 24 February 2022, as they are not covered by the EU temporary protection regime. 

Employment rules for Ukrainians who were in Estonia before the outbreak of the war

Ukrainian citizens who were working in Estonia before the start of the war cannot apply for temporary protection. However, they have been granted the right to stay in Estonia under the Aliens Act. The relevant amendment is in force since 24 May 2022 and will remain in force as long as the temporary protection regime is in place.

Another important change took effect on 24 May 2022 concerning Ukrainian citizens who were already working in Estonia before the start of the war. As many Ukrainians were registered in Estonia as short-term workers and were therefore only able to work in Estonia for a limited period of time, the Riigikogu passed a legislative amendment to facilitate the employment of these Ukrainians. Namely, they are no longer subject to the restrictions applicable to short-term work. Therefore, if a Ukrainian citizen was registered in Estonia as a short-term worker before 24 February 2022, the employer can safely continue to employ them regardless of whether the period for short-term work in Estonia has already expired. As a new requirement, the employer has the obligation to pay a remuneration that is at least 80% of the average monthly gross salary in Estonia in the relevant industry. The average gross monthly salary is calculated on the basis of the latest annual average gross monthly salary published by Statistics Estonia. The average gross monthly salary in various industries is based on EMTAK, the Estonian Classification of Economic Activities.

The same rules apply to Ukrainian citizens who were in short-term seasonal employment in Estonia before 24 February 2022.

Additionally, Ukrainians who were in short-term employment in Estonia before 24 February 2022 can receive support from the state in the form of labour market services. This means that employers can also participate in the programmes and cooperation projects offered by the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

ConditionsUkrainian employee under temporary protectionUkrainian short-term worker
Permitted period of work in EstoniaNot limited.Not limited.
Pay requirementAt least the minimum wageAt least 80% of the average monthly gross wages in the industry
LegislationEmployment Contracts ActAliens Act

If the Ukrainian citizen was not working in Estonia at the time the war started but was travelling as a tourist or visiting relatives, they are entitled to neither temporary protection nor the above exceptions. However, under the above-mentioned amendment to the Aliens Act, employers can also employ these Ukrainian citizens without excessive bureaucracy. The only important rule to bear in mind is the pay requirement described above.

In summary, compared to the early months of the war, hiring people fleeing from the war in Ukraine has become much simpler.

What kind of employment contract should be signed with a war refugee?

To avoid confusion, we will explain what kind of employment contract would be appropriate if the person has a work permit or a residence permit for a specific term. The general rule is that an employment contract should be based on the nature of the work, not the period of the employee’s stay in Estonia. 

A fixed-term contract of up to five years may be used if there are valid reasons for doing so arising from the temporary nature of the work or from the work itself, in particular a temporary increase in workload or seasonal work. Therefore, unless the nature or conditions of the work are temporary, an employment contract of indefinite duration should also be used with foreigners. If an employment contract has been signed for a fixed term without a good reason, the Labour Inspectorate may reassess the contract as an open-ended contract.

An employment contract of indefinite duration can be terminated by either the employee or the employer by giving at least 30 days’ notice to the other party. If a war refugee should return permanently to their home country without notifying the employer, the employer has the right to terminate the employment contract with immediate effect without giving advance notice. 

If you have any other questions about employing Ukrainians or any other problems with employment contracts or labour law in general, please contact us.

Find out more in our advice section, where you will find answers to common questions about labour law. 

A shortened version of the original article was published in Delfi Ärileht and Palgauudised.ee.