During the Covid pandemic, people all over the world were working from home. This concept endured even after on-site work resumed because many realised the advantages of working from home, especially in the Netherlands which had the highest rate of work-from-home employees in all European Union (EU) member states, even before the pandemic.
Dutch lawmakers recently proposed a "Work Where You Want" regulation that, if accepted by parliament, will require all employers with a staff of ten or more to accept all remote work requests, if specific criteria are met. This is in a bid to legally support and protect the rights of all workers – even remote workers. If the bill is accepted and adopted by the Senate it could take effect by 1 Jan 2023.
Lawmakers expect the law to be promulgated soon without much fuss because it is supported by employer and employee unions who both favour better work-life balance, and less time-consuming and costly commutes.
The Dutch have enjoyed this work flexibility even before the pandemic. In 2018, 14 per cent of Dutch workers usually worked from home, according to Eurostat.
A year later in 2019, British internet service provider Plusnet ranked the Netherlands as number one for telecommuting, which looked at factors like the percentage of people working remotely, the quality of Internet connections and the cost of living.
The government also offers subsidies to workers who have costs related to remoting working, like setting up a home office.
According to the new Dutch proposed regulation, certain criteria must be met to allow work-from-home requests form workers. It firmly establishes the rights of the employees who wish to work away from the business location.
"The employer, after weighing the circumstances, would need to judge that its interests, based on a standard of reasonableness and fairness, take second place to the employee's request", said Wouter Engelsman and Merel Keijzer, attorneys at CLINT | Littler in Amsterdam.
But the new Dutch bill will not be an unconditional right to work from home but rather a means to balance the interests of both the employer and employee and also a mechanism for workers to request remote work.
The regulation requires that all requests be considered “unless the employer has an interest that outweighs the employee's wish, according to the standards of reasonableness and fairness”. In other words, employers will be legally obliged to consider employee requests to work from home, provided their professions allow it.
The new regulation includes that the remote work location requested by the employee should be in the EU at the home address of the worker or another suitable site. If the work-from-home request is for a site not in the Netherlands, there are complications for tax and social security. These are very relevant factors when the employer is deciding whether to approve or deny a request.
The employee has to apply for the benefit at least two months before the expected start date and the employer has to respond in writing one month before the start date of the work-from-home. If the employer misses this deadline, the employee can consider his/her request as approved.
At the moment, the Flexible Working Act requires any work-hours change and a change-of-location request to be discussed with the employee, including when the request is denied in exceptional cases. The new changes to be introduced will make amendments to the existing Flexible Working Act and make refusal more difficult for employers.
Work-from-home requests may be rejected if the job cannot be practically performed remotely. Some possible reasons to refuse a request may be the job requiring specialist equipment to complete and these cannot be kept at home, when the job requires face-to-face interaction with others or if the employee requires immediate access to key information that can only be stored at the office.
Regular Dutch labour law will be used to enforce the new bill.
A survey conducted interviewing Dutch professionals in financial, business and government jobs showed that up to one-fifth of all respondents would choose to work remotely if they could. Seven out of ten respondents chose a hybrid combination of both remote and in-person work. And only one in ten respondents wanted to go into the office full-time.
These results demonstrate a requirement for this bill to be finalised and promulgated because Dutch companies can expect to see record numbers of employees seeking to work from home.
With less on-site staff a company will have fewer expenses. They could downsize their premises and save on office rent.
The new law will provide a formal and clear framework for remote working conditions and employers can legally implement their remote-working criteria to their workers with no ambiguity.
Many workers' productivity increased while working from home - with less time spent in daily commute. Companies can also better align their workers' remote working needs with their requirements to maximise productivity and boost profits.
Studies have also demonstrated that a happier team leads to a lower staff turnover and therefore the company can benefit from avoiding the expense and time-consuming effort of recruiting new staff.
Once this new law is promulgated, the Netherlands is likely to attract many talented workers from other countries who would prefer the flexibility of remote work whilst enjoying full legal protection. This will give Dutch companies the edge over other international companies.
Interestingly, other European countries, like Ireland, are looking at the problem from another angle: exploring new laws to “better regulate teleworking, while maintaining the voluntary character of teleworking/remote work for both parties”.
Spain and Portugal have introduced laws to protect remote workers but they are not as detailed and thorough as the Dutch proposal.
Scotland has introduced a four-day workweek in the public sector to align with the needs of employees but this was with pay cuts.
More countries are likely to follow the Netherlands when it comes to the future of the working environment.
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