In less than two years, remote working has become commonplace for millions of Europeans.
About 5 percent of us regularly worked from home before the pandemic; in some countries that number has more than quadrupled in the past 18 months.
Finland, Luxembourg and Ireland have the highest share of remote workers on the continent, with more than 20 percent of people always in jobs that give them the opportunity to work from home.
Majority of businesses would not have survived COVID-19 without the help of a remote digital infrastructure.
Today there are questions about what laws companies should follow to accommodate flexible working, given its popularity in certain industries. A survey conducted earlier this year by Slack found that almost a third of UK workers would be less inclined to apply for a job if remote working was not an option.
Portugal has led the way in this matter, with the publication of its “Green Paper on the Future of Work” which describes measures for remote and hybrid work to be automatically proposed by employers.
Their Assistant Secretary of State for Labor, Miguel Cabrita, urged EU countries to act quickly with plans to regulate remote working, saying that swift action will maximize opportunities and minimize risks.
Critics argued that it would cause “corporate chaos” for the coming years.
Which countries offer remote work as a legal right?
Germany is an outlier in this discussion as the only country in Europe have formally cemented long-term intentions in the new laws. Last January, it became mandatory for workplaces to offer staff the opportunity to work from home as long as there was “no compelling operational reason not to do so”.
This is offered as an option, rather than an obligation, for all workers to stay at home. Employers are also encouraged to offer flexible hours as Germany’s fight against COVID-19 continues.
Companies that do not comply can be contacted by their local authority and asked to explain the reasons why they do not do so.
Portugal was the first country in Europe to put in motion a temporary law “diet“for remote work. However, these will only last as long as they deem themselves to be in a state of emergency, which should last at least until the end of this year.
Among the provisions in force since January 2021 are: compulsory teleworking provided that the employee’s duties and living conditions allow it, where the employer must provide the equipment necessary for the performance of the work.
Failures to adopt the scheme are considered “very serious misconduct” with fines of between 2,040 and 61,200 euros, regardless of the size of the company.
Which countries are planning to offer remote work as a legal right?
Presentation of new legislation can be a long process.
For this reason, the remainder of the answer to this question is less about what countries have done and more about what they could do.
The high proportion of remote workers in Ireland has seen them become a driving force in new plans to offer flexible work choices.
The Irish government is considering making hybrid work accessible to all in the affected sectors by next year.
From that point on, your boss will need a very good excuse to decline a telework request, and all public service employees will be encouraged to spend up to 20% of their time out of the office by default.
New requirements will also be put in place for your business to provide and pay for safe and suitable equipment for the home office.
Russia is currently focusing on material support for teleworkers. Employers must provide remote workers with the necessary equipment and means to perform their duties if they choose to work from home.
This may include reimbursement for software, office chairs, and desks.
UK plans for regulate home work are a little more vague. The Guardian reported in June that Downing Street “consider legislating to make working from home the default option by giving employees the right to request it.”
The vastly different views from corporate lobby groups have derailed the process, and uncertainty remains as to what details the laws should cover.
France put measures in place to create work-life boundaries in its “right to disconnect” labor law in 2016, but it’s not quite the same.
Remote work is not offered by default in job descriptions, but like in Germany, employers in France must find a good reason to say no.
Spain and Greece have also presented plans to reshape their labor laws around remote working, according to the media.