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Changes to home office laws finally passed

Published: Apr. 6 2022

The government has recently passed changes to laws regulating home office use. – Tekna’s pleased that these changes have finally been made. Flexibility’s becoming increasingly important to many employees, states Tekna President Lars Olav Grøvik.

The new changes are effective starting on July 1st, and Grøvik is satisfied that the new law doesn’t require heavy handed administrative practices in order to be realized.

– Tekna doesn’t want this new law to be so difficult to administrate that people will stop wanting to do remote work on a voluntary basis, he says.

He adds that a majority of Tekna members have welcomed the chance to work remotely. In a survey conducted in 2021, 8 out of 10 members replied being positive to this idea.

- At the same time, it’s important that working remotely is voluntary. You must have the option of working at your workplace, too. Employers mustn’t be allowed to use these regulations as cost-saving measures. It’s also important that these regulations don’t call into question employees’ current salary and working conditions. For example, employers mustn’t benefit financially by cutting back on office locations so that employees are forced to work from home, declares Grøvik.

Working hours are the same

The new regulation means that the same law which determines your number of working hours applies whether you’re working from home or at the office.

- This has been an important point, since the old law gave people the chance to agree on what were often quite radical changes to an individual employee’s working hours. The law has had separate rules for regular working hours, calculating average weekly hours, overtime, working on Sunday and night work, adds Grøvik.

He feels that the protections offered by the Working Environment Act with respect to working hour laws are especially important when employees are working remotely.

- It can be difficult to separate work from necessary down time. Technological developments mean there isn’t much difference working from home or at the office, says Grøvik.

Got nowhere on integrative bargaining

In situations where work takes place in an employee’s own home (beyond a temporary and/or casual basis), there must be a contract between the employee and employer to regulate this work. The law doesn’t give employees the right to have a certain kind of work equipment, office furniture or the like. The Ministry justifies this position by stating that workplaces are different; therefore, needs for equipment are varied.

- We’re concerned about making sure that our members get the equipment they need in their home offices paid for. Companies are different, and employees’ needs are also different. Unfortunately, even though Tekna’s wanted the law to include an explicit right to conduct integrative bargaining on this point, our request didn’t get anywhere, explains Grøvik.

He feels that both employees and employers will benefit from having the best working conditions possible in home office settings.

- In November 2020, 28 percent of our members responded that they had what they needed with regard to office equipment, and 57 percent responded that they had sufficient computer equipment. On the other hand, 42 percent responded that they’d paid for their office equipment out of their own pockets. These numbers show that we still have a long way to go.

Little change on working environment

Requirements with respect to working environments haven’t been significantly changed in the new law.

- Tekna’s satisfied with the wording in the law concerning what kind of psychosocial working environment employees who are working remotely should have. We’ve gotten a lot of experience with this during the pandemic, and it’s important that this aspect of working also appears in the law, Grøvik points out.

The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority (Arbeidstilsynet) will supervise the law’s application, even though it won’t have access to employees’ home-based workplaces.

- One challenge here is that this government agency has been assigned new areas of responsibility without getting the budget needed to cover these new areas. Tekna believes that these new responsibilities must be financed through increased funding. After going through several years of cuts in their budget, it’s crucial to strengthen this agency with the resources it needs to ensure that workplace laws are upheld both now and in the future. It’s also important that the government’s now starting work on points that haven’t been included in the law, for example work injury coverage and taxation, says Grøvik.

Here are the changes:

  • A clarification of when the law applies
  • An exemption from the requirement for a written contract where remote work is caused by either a recommendation or an order from the authorities. In these cases, an employer can instead provide information after discussing the issue with company union representatives.
  • A clarification of a requirement stating that the psychosocial working environment also applies when an employee is working remotely.
  • That the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority (Arbeidstilsynet) is granted the authority to ensure that employers comply with the law’s requirements. This agency cannot supervise an employee in their own home without that employee’s permission.
  • That the same rules with respect to working hours apply equally to a home office situation as to a workplace situation.

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