Stronger regulations required to protect employees

IK – 07/2021

The corona pandemic has become the teleworking driver. According to a survey by Eurofound (the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions), 34% of respondents worked exclusively from home in July 2020, up from 5.4% a year earlier. Even after the pandemic, around three quarters (74%) of EU workers want to work from home at least occasionally, according to the spring 2021 Eurofound survey update.

However, the gap between aspiration and reality is still very deep when it comes to implementing long-term, mutually fair framework conditions for teleworking. There is a strong need for action and regulation to close this gap. Therefore, the European Commission is urgently called upon to further develop the current legislation.

Teleworking from the employees and employers viewpoints

There are a number of advantages to teleworking from the employees' point of view: It can often be more flexible in terms of time and it also provides spatial independence - two factors that can go hand in hand with better use of time, often combined with a smoother work/life balance. Teleworking also increases working autonomy, which is often associated with greater personal satisfaction. 

Teleworking also provides benefits as a working method from a company's point of view: If the workforce often works using their own technical equipment and in their own premises, then this means cost-savings for the company. The separation between work and private life becomes fluid. Quite often, the workforce sits in front of their screens well beyond their normal working hours. The inaccessibility of employees is perforated. They are becoming increasingly available at all times. Innovative possibilities for monitoring and collecting data, if needed for sanctioning employees, result from technical devices such as cameras, monitors and PCs.

Teleworking in reality

Teleworking often partially transfers the principle of entrepreneurial responsibility to the workforce. The employer releases himself from his "duty" - whilst preserving his "rights".  However, this often makes working conditions more complicated for employees: The equipment is frequently not optimal and the spatial conditions are inadequate. The workload and an increasingly imbalanced work/life balance lead to health risks: These range from physical problems such as back pain or the effects of weight gain to psychological impairment caused by stress, the pressure of constant availability, isolation or even anxiety. The improved compatibility of family and work, which is often put forward as a positive argument, becomes a new challenge due to the lack of privacy options.

Stronger and more up-to-date regulations are needed

In order to protect employees, stronger legal frameworks are needed at the EU level, especially from the perspective of employee representatives. One positive sign in this direction is that the issue of telework is now receiving a great deal of attention, for example with its inclusion in the action plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights (ESSR). There are also already regulations on the design of telework,such as the 2002 framework agreement on telework or the recommendations of the European Parliament on the "right to be unavailable" from this year. However, these regulations must be consistently developed further on the basis of current circumstances.

In addition, the implementing of collective agreements for protecting an employee's privacy, the right to freedom of association as well as transparency about monitoring and control by the company are also urgently required. Finally, telework requires specific legislation that must apply globally due to the employee's independence of location. The conclusions on this issue adopted by the European Council on June 14, 2021, can also be seen as a milestone. It also invites member states to develop guidelines covering the organisation and supervision of working time, to develop initiatives to strengthen labour inspectorates and health and safety at work and to examine whether existing social and labour law in the EU ensures decent working conditions for teleworkers.