Home office work, which spread rapidly in Corona times, has many advantages. And it is desired by an increasing number of workers for the post-pandemic period. But it also comes with a few side effects for some telecommuters that can dull the home-working experience.
Portugal, which is one of Europe's pioneers when it comes to digitization and is considered a paradise for teleworkers, has recognized the problem. A far-reaching law has just come into force in the southern European country that strengthens the rights of home office workers and makes companies accountable.
For example, the new home office decree grants all office employees with children up to the age of eight the opportunity to work from home. The employer may not refuse this as long as teleworking is technically and organizationally possible. Extra costs for computers, Internet and electricity must be borne by the company.
However, the right to work from home only applies if the company has at least ten employees. Part of the reform is also a ban on contacting employees outside working hours with calls, emails and short messages via Whatsapp or Telegram. Violations of the "right to rest," as Portuguese media call it, are subject to heavy fines.
Incidentally, the new contact ban will not only protect home workers from overzealous superiors in the future but all employees in Portugal - regardless of whether they work at home or in the company. Exceptions apply only in the event of "force majeure," as the law somewhat vaguely puts it.
However, force majeure does not include the boss ordering employees to complete a task on the weekend, Portuguese lawyers immediately clarified. Instead, it should be understood as "unforeseeable events in the company" about which the employees must be informed. For example, serious operational disruptions caused by accidents, fires or strikes. It is time to set limits to abuse in the workplace, said Portugal's Socialist Minister for Employment, Ana Mendes Godinho.
He said the need for reform has been most evident in recent months in the home office, which has been introduced in many places. The law has one main goal, he said: "We want to take advantage of the benefits of the home office and eliminate the disadvantages."
In fact, until last summer, home office was mandatory for Portugal's office workers to reduce the risk of corona in the workplace. Thanks to a record 88 percent national vaccination rate, the number of infections in Portugal has since plummeted, and telecommuting is now only recommended by the government.
The new labor law includes a few other things to protect the private lives of telecommuters sitting at home. For example, it also prohibits any form of home office surveillance, such as cameras or other electronic means. The law had been passed with the votes of the governing Socialists, who follow a Social Democratic line. Two small left-wing parties had abstained. The conservative opposition, which had the employers on its side, voted against. Incidentally, the reform was one of the last decisions of the Portuguese Parliament, which will be dissolved in the next few days. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has announced new elections for the end of January after the budget of Prime Minister António Costa's minority Socialist government failed to win a majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
Image by Gerd Altmann