We're facing something completely different. Many people are working from home for the very first time, so it’s also the first time they have to think about what is legally binding and what's not.
Julia Fritz | Attorney & Nicolaus Mels-Colloredo | Attorney
Life as we know is changing, there’s no question about it. COVID-19 has not only caused shifts in the way we communicate, travel and work, but it has also raised many questions about the feasibility, legitimacy and permanence of all the new systems and procedures we’ve put in place.
According to statistics, approximately 45% of all professionals in Austria performed their job at home in April 2020. For many, that meant a big change in the way they usually conduct their activities - suddenly, aspects were taken into account that no one gave much thought to before. While working out new schedules, rules and strategies, one thing became clear for everyone: there are numerous important aspects to consider when it comes to home office, both for employers and employees, especially when it comes to the legality of it all.
To be able to fully understand the situation, we asked experts in the field to shed some light on the current circumstances. In April, the female factor had the pleasure of hosting a special Q&A session with our partners PHH Attorneys at Law. By tackling our members’ questions, Julia - real estate specialist and the female factor mentor - and Nicolaus - employment law specialist - gave insights about the legal foundation of home office, for both employers & employees, and helped us understand what we should be really paying attention to. Read on for some of the key takeaways.
The first step in clearing up some of the confusion around the topic of home office is understanding the actual definition of the term, as well as all the other names it’s been given. Terms such as telework, mobile work, remote work or home office have been used differently by different stakeholders, however, Julia & Nicolaus have a clear answer to make sense of the chaos - it simply doesn’t matter how you choose to call it. As long as it signifies that the employee is in fact working from home, it all holds the same meaning and weight.
There is, however, one important thing to keep in mind, especially as an employer: home office has to be stated and regulated properly in your contracts.
Even when it comes to working from home, employers should strive to offer their teams the necessary equipment needed to perform their tasks in the best way possible. When it comes to the most used of it resources, the requirements stand as follows:
monitor, mouse & keyboard: need to be provided by the employer
desk & chair: no requirements
printer & ink: if necessary, they need to be paid for by the employer
rent & electricity costs: no obligation for rent coverage, employer can be required to cover additional electricity costs
internet charges and work mobile: no additional costs for flat rates
Establishing suitable guidelines for home office very much depends on the size of the company. Bigger firms, where reaching every employee may take longer, should opt for official general home office policies that apply to everyone. At the same time, smaller ventures might want to install individual agreements for different roles. At all times, the focus should be on providing equal benefits and conditions to all members, as much as the situation allows, and ensuring that all documentation is adapted to fit the situation. If your contracts don’t mention any remote work guidelines, they can be added as an appendix. Be mindful of details like duration and conditions. For instance, if both employer and employee agree with maintaining the regulations even after the pandemic, then the employee’s right to stay at home is extended.
HEALTH & ACCIDENT INSURANCE IN HOME OFFICE
The amended legislation in regards to Corona gives insight into what should be observed on the matter of insurances. As per the new law, if an accident takes place at home, it's to be considered a work accident and covered by the insurance, during this particular period of time. It is expected for a grey area to persist for some months to come, until the virus has been contained and we can return to a new normal.
Conducting any activity in a proper way relies on solid employee coordination. This usually means that, in normal circumstances, in order to avoid issues, work is done in a time frame that is agreed upon with the employer (i.e. if you do have working hours from 8 to 5 you have to work then). With many questions arising in regards to scheduling during home office, each venture is advised to come to an agreement regarding their hours.
In addition, team members have to officially agree to their employer’s right to rebuke home office and go back to the original state & conditions. This can be agreed individually (if there’s no work council), or in the general policy.
If you're at your home working station right now, take a minute to look around. Maybe you have documents laying on your desk, or your screen is unlocked. It might be that only your partner is at home with you - he's still considered to be a third party that should not partake in your operations. To improve the issue, employers can introduce regulations regarding data protection and the employee’s responsibilities to insure safety. However, as it is still difficult to distinguish who is responsible for network security at home and how that could be guaranteed, the employer should specifically provide technical solutions and communication tools for the team to work within a secure environment.
The PHH representatives assure us of one thing: a lot will change after the pandemic when it comes to work regulations. Many companies are working intensely on home office agreements, especially as we’re expecting to enter a grey zone until a proper legal framework is instituted.
One thing remains vital - everyone should be mindful that these extraordinary circumstances require solution and the willingness to adapt, if we are to return to a state of normal, whatever that might look like later on.
ABOUT PHH ATTORNEYS AT LAW
PHH Attorneys at Law was founded in 2001 and currently employs over 70 people, half of whom are lawyers specialising in different fields. As a leading commercial law firm, PHH have won multiple awards and are regularly mentioned as one of the leading Austrian practices for business law and cases involving white collar crime.
Julia Fritz focuses on real estate law, property law and supporting real estate projects. Her main area of expertise lies in structuring, implementing and processing of property law transactions. Julia was called to the bar in 2015 and has been a partner at PHH Attorneys at Law since 2017.
Nicolaus Mels-Colloredo focuses primarily on transactions and on individual and collective labour law. He specialises in advising clients on M&A transactions, labour law issues in connection with corporate transactions or restructuring and on negotiations with works councils & unions. Nicolaus was called to the bar in 2009 and became a partner at PHH Attorneys at Law the same year.
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