The employer has an obligation to ensure the safety of its employee, but in the conditions of a home office, a legal requirement may become absurd, it was stated on Äripäev raadio’s ,,Kasvukursil’’.
For example, the law obliges the employer to provide first aid to his employee if necessary, but in the case of remote working it may not be easy to provide it. "If an employee gets stuck in Thailand and works under a palm tree and a coconut falls on his head, then today it qualifies as an employment injury," Kristel Tiits, the leading legal advisor of Grant Thornton Baltic OÜ, gave an example.
Therefore, Marge Litvinova, the head of human resources in the same company, emphasized that remote working must be seen in the big picture according to what an employer can and cannot provide for its employee. "Providing remote working is definitely a competitive advantage for the company in the long run," she said.
The employer has a responsibility
When considering the options, the employer must remember that the company is always responsible for the consequences. "If an employee in the home office stumbles on the carpet and breaks his leg, it is an employment injury," Tiits explained.
However, the employer can mitigate the risks. "It is possible for an employee to ask for a risk assessment at home, to take pictures of his or her workplace so that the employer can be sure that the employee is working in the right position and that the lighting is adequate," Tiits gave examples. "At the same time, it is not possible to go to check the employee's home, because it would violate the employee’s fundamental rights," the expert warned.
In addition, the employer must pay attention to the psychosocial factors that threaten people working from home. "Some people have pointed out that working in their own bubble will influence the health and the employer must be able to support people here," Litvinova noted.
In addition, the employer should be able to provide his employee a fixed work time frame in order to avoid burnout. "It is good if the employee knows his or her working hours specifically, because there is a risk in the home office that something else will be done in the meantime and then work will continue - but in the end more work time will be invested," Tiits explained. "Safe work time frames are also important because then teams know when one of them is working."
Disputes for the future
The growing popularity of working remotely may also mean an increase in the number of labor disputes in the future. "Many health issues caused by the wrong position will manifest in a long time period," Litvinova said. "Whether it's shoulder girdle problems, backaches or headaches - these are the controversies we'll see in the future, because people don't think about their posture in the home office today and its effects won't go unnoticed," the expert warned.
Burnout can also be a point of contention. For the employer to better protect himself against the accusation of burnout, experts recommend finding ways to prove that there are other factors in the employee's life that overwhelm him. "If you can show in court that the employee lived a stressful life outside of work, it can be helpful," Tiits thought.
Not everyone wants to work from the home office
However, experts agree that remote working should not be the primary responsibility of either the employee or the employer, as many employees are reluctant to work remotely. "Many employees have realized that working only at home causes difficulty to maintain focus and it is not recommended to stay home permanently," said Litvinova.
Employees also consider that having direct contact with other colleagues is important. "This is where the human side comes into play," Litvinova said. "Spontaneous meetings in the coffee corner, but also face to face meetings are important. Participating in virtual meetings for the whole day is more tiring.”
According to Litvinova, these values often do not outweigh the fact that a person saves time from sitting in traffic jams. However, the employee may not always have a choice in favour of the office. "If a person comes from a trip, he or she must remain in solitary confinement, and people with symptoms are no longer expected to work," Litvinova described cases that do not depend on the employee. As the employer cannot be fully responsible here either with his own resources or pay compensation for the period of isolation. For example, according to experts, the state could consider whether something could be compensated from their side.
For the employee and the employer to be able to prevent problems, they need to make more specific agreements with each other. "Think about the metrics, how to evaluate the result, and set expectations and deadlines - these are the main keywords that are more important today than to have someone in a certain place at a certain time," Litvinova concluded.