A discussion is taking place across the European Union on a draft directive to enable employees to draw a line between the professional and private life and to know when they have the right to go “offline”. The idea stirs up emotions, but irrespective of what shape the enacted new regulations will take, it can be seen after many months of the pandemic that not all employers have overcome the challenge of organising remote work.
Remote work may be an effective and safe way of performing duties, but there are no clear provisions that would regulate it, such as rules for determining the start and finish times of remote work. In effect, superiors have no detailed knowledge or control over how much time their subordinates work. In this context, it is important that every employer, irrespective of whether remote work is implemented, must keep track of working hours. In the absence of control over working time, employees may claim overtime pay. Such lack of control may also lead to violations of employee rights to have daily rest time and the 11-hour break from work.
Control of work quality and of how duties are performed during remote work is another problematic issue. From the perspective of work assessment, of key importance is clarity of instructions and guidelines given. During remote work, when superiors have no continuous and direct supervision over employees, the superiors should be particularly precise when giving instructions, so that any infraction by employees may be grounds for allegations that they do not duly follow instructions.
These issues should be regulated in a way that would enable employees to separate remote work from private life and give employers tools to enforce performance of their instructions and track employee working time.
Not all employees can work remotely, as sometimes it is impossible on account of their particular positions. During the pandemic an issue may arise if an employee may refuse to come to work by offering the fear of coronavirus infection as a reason.
According to Article 210 of the Labour Code, employees may refrain from work, but only when working conditions do not conform to occupational health and safety provisions and pose an actual threat to the employee’s life or health. Working conditions should be assessed objectively even during the epidemic threat, as not every workplace creates such a risk. The right to refrain from work may be invoked when employees have valid reasons to presume that their working conditions pose a direct threat to life or health. For example, such a situation will occur when an employer sends an employee to a place with a very high likelihood of infection or when an employee receives an instruction to contact directly a person who is quarantining.
Each case of refraining from work must be reported to the employer. If an employee leaves his or her workstation without notifying the employer, he or she must take into account disciplinary consequences including termination with immediate effect.