From Remote to Hybrid Work – What Do Employers Need to Know?
Last spring, many Finns followed authority recommendations and started working from home rather than commuting to the office. The amount of remote work skyrocketed almost overnight, particularly in consultant and expert work.
As organisations are now beginning to transition back to normal, remote work will no longer be based on emergency circumstances and authority recommendations. The current transition involves a number of noteworthy employment law issues that employers should be aware of.
Agreeing on Remote Work
Remote work is flexible work that is done either full time or part time outside the actual workplace and is based on voluntary, agreed rules. Remote work is subject to the same employment law regulations as work done traditionally at the workplace.
Voluntary remote work does not necessarily require a separate employment agreement. However, we recommend that employers draft written remote work instructions, because in employment relationships of over one month, the employer has a statutory obligation to report the key terms of employment.
Written instructions help avoid ambiguity about the terms of employment. In a dispute, ambiguity is easily interpreted to the detriment of the employer. If unwritten practices continue for a long time, they could become established terms of the employment relationship, and the employer will no longer be able to unilaterally change them.
Remote work instructions should cover at least the following matters:
- How often is remote work permitted?
- Does remote work require a notice to or separate approval from the employee’s supervisor?
- Where is remote work permitted?
- How quickly must the employee be reachable and through what means?
- Is there an obligation to come to the actual workplace and is there a time limit within which the employee must be able to come to the workplace?
- Working hours
- Work tools and any compensation for them
- Under what circumstances can remote work end?
- Data protection and secrecy obligations
- Practices for notifying the employer of absences when working remotely.
Can Employees Be Obligated to Work Remotely?
When talking about remote work, the question sometimes arises of whether employers can obligate their employees to work remotely. As a rule, the place of employment agreed in the employment agreement is binding on the employer with respect to remote work. too.
This means that the employer cannot in normal circumstances unilaterally obligate an employee to work remotely unless this has been agreed in the employment agreement. An exception to this could be if the employer decides to give up a fixed place of business entirely.
This could create production-related grounds referred to in section 7(3) of the Employment Contracts Act. The plan for transitioning to remote work and giving up a fixed place of business would have to be discussed in co-operation negotiations and could be adopted by complying with notice periods.
Remote Work and Equal Treatment
Employers have an obligation to treat their employees equally unless there is an acceptable cause for different treatment based on the duties and position of the employees. Remote work rules and instructions can be different for employees in different positions as long as there are objective and acceptable reasons for different treatment.
Acceptable reasons can include the contents and nature of work duties as well as the kind of work performance.
The employer can also set limits on remote work. For example, the employer can require that there must always be a certain number of employees at the workplace or forbid remote work if an employee refuses to comply with the employer’s remote work instructions.
Remote Work Abroad
Employers are under no obligation to allow remote work from abroad. Employers are entitled to require that their employees work remotely from a location where they are able to return to the workplace within a specified time limit. The employer is also entitled to require that work duties are performed during regular working hours or flexible working hours. Time zone differences do not justify deviating from agreed working hours.
Temporarily working from abroad has no impact on the fact that Finnish employment law is applied to the employment relationship. When remote work from abroad is longer in duration, the employer must determine which country's employment law is applied to the employment relationship.
It is also extremely important for both the employer and employee to find out in advance how the employee’s social security is determined while working abroad, i.e. which country's social security provisions apply to the remote work.
Occupational Safety and Health Act and Coping with Work
In remote work, the employer’s ability to supervise employment relationships and employee workloads is limited. This highlights the employee’s own responsibility to ensure, for example, sufficient rest time. The employer should also use, for example, surveys and discussions to remind employees to look after their wellbeing.
The employment accidents insurance taken out by the employer also applies to remote work, but in remote work it is more tied to the workspace than at the actual workplace. This is important to keep in mind and, if necessary, the employer and employee should supplement the statutory accident insurance with a voluntary insurance policy.