Labor law

Home offices have been the biggest game-changer in employment relationships

Kristel Tiits
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The coronavirus crisis, which started a little more than a year ago, changed quite a few things in employment relationships. One of the most important changes has been the widespread use of working from home offices.

Provided that the nature of the job had some degree of compatibility with the format, employees were allowed to work remotely by companies and organisations where this had not previously been the practice.

For employers, it was a significant change in how work was organised and all too often, one could notice that many companies hadn’t given enough thought to remote work arrangements. Employers had a number of questions and problems: how to make sure that employees had the equipment and IT security needed to work at home and in what way to ensure that employees are actually doing work from home?

Remote work is a grey area in legislation

Answers to questions are not always clear from perusing legislation, as working remotely is largely unregulated at the legislative level. The Employment Contracts Act stipulates  that employer and employee may agree on the employee working remotely and that the agreement is made in a written form, either within the employment contract or an annex thereto. But the Employment Contracts Act is not regulating any other aspects of remote work, so it remains a legal grey area.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act adds another important aspect, stating that employers must ensure occupational safety and safe working conditions in every work-related situation. It has been a complicated question for many employers on how to safeguard this principle in the home office. Let’s be honest, employers cannot really be responsible for the employee’s work safety in their home office, but the employer can decrease their risks by performing risk analysis and supervising the employee, including by preparing rules for remote work that are a prerequisite for working in the home office. These rules can stipulate that the employee must take breaks, perform exercises etc. after a certain amount of time working on computers. In addition, the employer can talk to the employee to determine whether the employee has sufficient ergonomic equipment at home and whether it is actually possible for the employee to work in their home office, including carrying out a risk analysis of the home office together with the employee. The risk analysis can determine whether necessary equipment needs to be purchased for the employee’s home office.

Employer and employee should share responsibility

If the employee is working in their home office permanently, the responsibility for occupational safety should be shared. After all, even in an office environment, an employer does not force the employee to rise to their feet and perform exercises every 15 minutes, even though it may be in the rules – this is the employee’s responsibility both in the employer’s location and when working at home.

For more on remote work, read the articles „Remote working leads the concept of employment injury to absurd“ and „A five-year leap in two months: remote work as a new norm “.

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