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Remote Work

Written by Tekna’s legal department Mar. 1 2021

The term ‘remote work’ is used to describe the work an employee does for an employer that is performed at a different location than a traditional workplace.

The most common location for Tekna members to work remotely is in their own homes. They might also work at other places when traveling for work or when on a temporary out-of-town work assignment. Or they might rent a desk or office at a coworking space along with other workers.

Rules on remote work

Both the Working Environment Act and the individual worker’s employment contract comprise the framework for remote work contracts between employers and employees. This includes a separate regulation on work that’s performed in the employee’s home. Additionally, several European parties connected with labor force issues entered into a framework agreement on remote work in 2002. Based on this framework, Norwegian guidelines have been established for starting and practicing remote work. These guidelines have been adopted by the following organizations in Norway: NHO, Virke (formerly HSH), KS, Spekter (formerly NAVO), LO, YS, Unio, Akademikerne and NITO.

Voluntary

Working remotely is voluntary for any employee and employer. If remote work is not part of an original employment contract, neither the employee nor employer can singlehandedly require that a separate contract be signed with respect to remote work. Also, any contract involving remote work can be changed or cancelled by the creation of a new contract.

How to ensure that remote work will function optimally

There are advantages and disadvantages connected with working remotely for both employer and employee; for example, the increased flexibility it offers is positive and can improve employees’ productivity. At the same time, such improvements can’t be achieved without having both parties trust one another. This trust must be based on a mutual understanding of the actual situation as well as agreement (or consensus) regarding the work tasks to be solved. It must apply to both sides when setting goals for using remote work (for example, are there steps in place for making it attractive to be an employee) and practicing the work arrangement (for example, a group formed in an individual company/organization that regularly evaluates its arrangement).

It’s only when a contract is in place that the real challenges arise. When this happens, both sides’ ability to deal openly with these challenges will help minimize the risks of working in this new manner.

Setting up and following up a remote working situation should for the most part be done locally. It’s useful for Tekna’s staff members to get members’ feedback about their experiences with these aspects of working remotely so they’ll be able to give other members the best possible advice on this topic.

Remote work: Guidelines and contracts

Different organizations’ needs for regulation vary. One way to deal with this is to have some general guidelines at the organizational level combined with individual contracts for each employee. This two-part combination is advantageous as it’s based on a desire to create as much as possible common terms for working remotely in an organization while at the same time requiring individually-based regulation that corresponds to the individual employee’s work tasks/work situation.

There are illustrations below showing a few points that are important to assess when establishing guidelines and contracts for remote work. Which of these two categories the various subpoints fall under must be determined based on the individual organization’s needs and employees’/employers’ mutual understanding of the situation.

Definition: The term ‘remote work’ means work that is performed by an employee for an employer at a location other than the organization’s workplace, for example in the employee’s home.

Reasons for using remote work

Remote work should be based on a tool that reflects the organization’s goals, plans and culture.

For an employee:

  • Life situation (caregiver, etc.), commute, flexible work schedule, greater independence, interest in new technology, rehabilitation after illness


For an employer:

  • Organizational change, expense reduction, recruitment and turnover - flexible work schedule, productivity, rehabilitation, reduced vulnerability


An additional question is whether the guidelines should also define which employees are to be included in the remote work plan.

Recommendations for remote work

All remote work contracts should be in written form.

A remote worker’s workload and requirements for work performance should be equal to the requirements made for comparable positions whose work is performed on their employer’s premises. The need for and use of remote work should be discussed with a union company representative before any contract is signed and implemented. In addition, the representative should participate in assessing how other remote work is to be arranged in the organization.

Remote work is voluntary. An employee should have the right to return to their regular work situation. The premise for returning to «normal» work («notice period», return of equipment, etc.) should be determined in advance.

Any employee who performs remote work is included in the legislation and contracts that apply to the «regular» position in which this individual is employed, except where other terms have been agreed upon and accepted.

Remote work presupposes external office space. Working from home requires an employee to use a certain amount of space for an office and office equipment. So the parties must clarify which expenses the employer is responsible for with regard to setting up and maintaining an employee’s home office.

Working remotely should not negatively impact an employee’s access to social welfare benefits, leaves of absence, salary growth, pension rights, career development or job protection, including lay-offs.

The parties must clarify the challenges posed by remote work in order to ensure working conditions that include giving employees a sense of belonging, communication and values. An employee should also be assured of receiving any necessary job-related training and updating.

A remotely working employee’s professional and social contact must be ensured. All ways of counteracting an employee’s feelings of isolation should be considered – social events in this case become more meaningful.

New hires should work on-site for a period of time before considering remote work as this ensures their getting the following: a sense of belonging, learning, socializing and becoming familiar with the organizational culture.

An employee’s work schedule should be organized so that it takes into account the needs of both the organization and employee. New and different requirements for flexible solutions (f.ex. the employee’s life phases, the organization’s competitiveness) mean having regulations that cover the following: overtime (terms, registration, compensation), compensatory time, vacation, core work time (availability), weekend work, and how to handle any deviations from the agreed arrangement.

Terms for clarification

  • Calculation of working hours – increased level of freedom when performing work – choosing time point for working
  • Terms for working overtime, including what is considered overtime. Remote work should not imply that all responsibility is to be handed over to the employee. – How to avoid work overload in relation to what is considered a normal work situation.

Working in the event of illness

  • employee’s own illness
  • absence due to caregiving responsibilities
  • giving notice about disability (illness) and caregiving needs
  • working with a partial disability
  • remote work as a means of rehabilitation
  • limiting work obligations during absence due to caregiving responsibilities

It’s important to make sure that employees get time off when necessary in situations that would otherwise give them the opportunity not to work, even if some of their work tasks are more accessible from home.

The employment relationship in the event of family care leave, including parental leave, should:

  • secure implementation of the right to a reduced position
  • secure implementation of the right to reduced working hours

Internal monitor - Health, environment and safety (HES)

An employer has overall responsibility for the working environment, including a home office situation where the workplace, for reasons of privacy, cannot be subjected to the kind of general monitoring to the degree that for example the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority can practice during its visits to an organizational workplace. However, HES measures can, practically speaking, be carried through when an organization includes its own procedures in the HES system about different aspects of remote work. Protections against stress disorders and illness are examples of conditions that should be included. Based on these reports, the Authority can assist/present organizations with requirements to achieve a sound level of regulation based on current needs (as is the case in all other HES work). This also secures employees’ representation regarding questions about remote work through the working environment committee and the possibility of having sanctions implemented through the Authority. HES measures in connection with working from home must be adapted on both a local and individual level.

An employee is obligated to follow instructions in order to consider conditions that are necessary to prevent injuries and accidents. An employer’s general access to a workplace so they can determine if its environment is satisfactory generally applies but is dependent on getting either employees’ consent or a separate agreement involving this access in situations where work is performed in employees’ homes.

Challenges – consciousness raising

When working remotely, an employee must adapt to working that requires them to practice self-discipline and create structure in new ways. They’ll:

  • be evaluated on their results rather than efforts to a greater degree
  • have greater personal responsibility to set limits on their working day

Similarly, remote work requires an employer to practice a different management. Both employer and employee must agree on how a necessary level of trust can be achieved when their physical proximity can no longer be used to determine how well/poorly their relationship is functioning. Building a positive work relationship can be achieved through for instance having adapted reporting procedures and regular assessments.

Another idea is having remote workers, their non-remote working colleagues and managers spend a certain amount of time together working on mutual consciousness raising about the possibilities and risks associated with working remotely. This might apply to practical and technical communication, organizing work tasks and promoting interactive work patterns. These measures should be implemented before any remote work plan is implemented; it should also be followed up on a regular basis.

Relevant topics to discuss:

  • Less surveillance and monitoring
  • More delegating
  • Motivating
  • Information processing
  • Influential patterns
  • Evaluation of results
  • Creating boundaries between work and leisure
  • Operation, safety and user support

It’s important to secure user competency and clarify areas of responsibility and expectations so that among other things mistakes are corrected in an efficient manner. This is a fundamental prerequisite for remote work to be a rational form of working.

  • Who is responsible for the different parts of the system?
  • Has necessary training been given?
  • What does the need for support consist of?
  • How are support needs reported?

What kind of procedures are in place for securing information from physical dangers and active attacks (encryption, password, virus, etc.)?

Regulation level

It’s challenging to find the correct regulation level so that a remote work contract achieves its purpose in practice. There is a risk of overregulating or not having the regulation meet its target properly, resulting in the situation where both parties choose to disassociate from one another completely (for example, when an employer would rather hire external consultants rather use their own employees). This can in turn lead to having a group that was originally meant to have inalienable rights end up with having no rights at all.

Job protection

Job protection should be just as strong for remote workers as for others. However, it may require special measures; for instance, this may mean taking measures that make it more difficult to remove employers, units, departments, etc. when employees become less “visible” as a consequence of their working remotely. However, having a common identity can influence the situation in a positive way. This idea applies both in relation to rationalization and in situations where an individual employee is having problems cooperating with others.

Taxation

There are no special rules that apply to taxation for remote work; on the contrary, the general rules in tax laws with associated principles for taxation of work, the organization, income and wealth apply.

This means among other things that an employee can’t change their tax rate from regular employee to self-employed worker by switching to a home office situation.

When entering into a remote work contract, both employer and employee should be conscious of the fact that economic changes might arise that will have consequences for taxation. For example, they should clarify to what degree an increase in the employee’s tax rate will be compensated by the employer in situations where this increase is caused by working remotely.

An employee will be able to be (partially) taxed on benefits for items which can be essentially attributed to work. Relevant areas include:

  • housing (rent, construction costs, insurance policies)
  • travel
  • expenses for procurement and operation of office equipment (including a personal computer, mobile phone, fax, video conference equipment, etc.)
  • education

Generally speaking, the following point applies: the employer’s coverage of expenses and investments is not taxable income for the employee, f.ex. computer equipment loaned by the employer for service-related use.

The prerequisite for tax exemptions is that an employer keeps the right of ownership of the investment object. However, it is possible to list it as a reason for tax liability if an employer’s expense in this context is partially or wholly regarded as a payment to the employee that is in connection to the employment relationship. The question of tax liability also relates to whether the employee – alongside the employer’s interests – enjoys a personal advantage from the plan that’s seen as having been gotten through work and therefore in principle represents taxable income.

Partial taxation may be possible when for example an employee remodels the basement of their house to use as an office; consequently, insulation, heat, ventilation are items that don’t belong to the employer, so these items are exempt from tax liability.

In addition, there are rules about deductible expenses connected to an employee’s employment income. The most common ones apply, including standard deductions and surcharges for expenses and incomes. Employees/Employers are encouraged to review their current local rules. It should also be noted that Parliament can change tax filing requirements from one year to the next. This is why it’s natural that any renegotiation clauses which form a basis for reinstating the original balance between an employee/employer are included in a remote work contract.

Insurance

Workers’ compensation insurance

While the laws on workers’ compensation insurance also apply to using a home office, difficult questions about evidence may arise if an actual injury took place while an employee was working at the workplace during working hours.

Insurance policies must secure an employee equally well while working remotely as they do when they are working in a ‘normal situation.’ Employees/Employers should be aware of what their organization’s workers’ compensation insurance doesn’t cover in cases of accidents, including the ‘grey area’ between private and work-related tasks in relevant situations.

The most important prerequisite for coverage is that an employee’s injury takes place “while working in the workplace during working hours”, in accordance with the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Law (section 10). By demarcating coverage to exclude private tasks, precedent from governmental cases on workers’ compensation insurance will be significant for any decision made. The National Insurance Act uses an identical demarcation (section 13-6, second paragraph). Several specific questions about demarcation issues are connected to employee travel between a home office and an organization. Any ruling on these questions must be based on a concrete, overall assessment of each case. Please refer to the literature for further information on related demarcations.

One practical solution for an employee to eliminate any demarcation issues is to have them sign up for a complementary insurance policy (for example, leisure insurance) so that they’ll be covered for accidents – even if it’s doubtful that their injury can be related to working for their employer. In these cases it must be ensured that a complementary policy will provide an employee with as good coverage in the event of an injury as their workers’ compensation insurance does.

Property damage insurance

Insurance must also secure all the equipment, buildings, etc. that an employee uses while working remotely so that any risk of injury in the employment situation is not transferred from an employer to an employee.

Group life insurance

An investigation should take place to determine whether changes should be made to a contract so that employees will maintain their level of coverage with connection to working remotely.

One general method of ensuring this point is to have the contract between an employee and employer include a statement that the organization’s collective insurance policies also apply to remote work.

Please contact Tekna’s head office (tel. 22 94 75 00) and ask to speak to someone in the legal department if you need to discuss any aspect of remote work contracts.

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