Labour minister pushing for Greek style remote work

The Labour ministry seems to be pushing forward a legislative framework on working from home, based on what was adopted in Greece; it will regulate the details of working remotely, a reality that has become necessary in recent times due to the pandemic.

The issue seems to be high on the priorities of Labour minister Zeta Emilianidou and according to our sources, a lot of groundwork has been laid in pushing forward relevant legislation. Within the framework of this preparation, a discussion took place with social actors at a recent meeting of the Labour Advisory Body, a few days after the minister send them the Greek governments’ bill on working remotely, seeking their views.

In a relevant letter to representatives of employers’ organisations and unions, Zeta Aimilianidou requested their remarks and comments, if possible prior to the next meeting of the Labour Advisory Body set for September 7, at the central offices of labour union SEK.

It is noteworthy that a working document on remote work was also drawn up by the Legislation Commissioner and submitted to the Labour Minister, while social actors at European level had reached a framework agreement on the issue since 2002 that was never ratified by social actors in Cyprus.

As a result, the framework of legislative regulation on the matter is the one supported by the competent ministry, which also integrated relevant actions in the country’s Recovery and Resilience plan. The goal, based on what the minister recently presented, is not just the introduction of legislation to regulate remote work, aimed at securing the rights of employees, but also the implementation of subsidising working remotely. The plan in question calls for a ten month subsidy was an obligation to work for at least 12 months.

Remote work in Greece

Based on the Greek legislation, on which the Labour minister sought the views of social actors, remote work constitutes the ‘remote provision of the employee’s dependent work through the use of technology, based on the agreement on providing full, part-time, shift work or any other form of employment that would otherwise be possible at the employers’ facilities’.

As called for in the Greek legislative framework, remote work is agreed between employer and employee based on the agreement reached during hiring or otherwise be amended at a later stage.

In accordance with the same framework and by exception, if the work can be provided remotely, this can also take place for health reasons. Specifically, either ‘following an employer’s decision related to reasons connected to the protection of public health and the relevance of which is established following a decision of the health minister and any competent minister and as long as these reasons apply’, but also following a request by the employees themselves if a threat to their health is substantiated and will be avoided if they work remotely as long as this danger lasts.

Illnesses, conditions or disabilities of the employee which can be substantiate the danger to their health, as well as the relevant documents supporting their request, the relevant bodies and the actual procedure of establishing the danger, will be set out by ministerial decisions of the competent authorities.

The employer foots the bill

The Greek legislation also settles on of the questions raised on many occasions about the additional cost to the employee working remotely, an issue that is also causing concern for social actors in Cyprus.

According to the relevant bill, during remote work the employer will bear the cost incurred by the employee by this form of work, namely the cost of the equipment, unless an agreement is reached on using the employees’ equipment, communication, maintenance and restoring damage.

It is also referred that the employer shall provide the employee with technical support for his work and compensation for the cost of repairing the devices being used or replacing them in case of technical glitches. This obligation, as noted, also includes the devices owned by the employee, unless the work agreement states differently.

It is further clarified that the agreement or the working relationship clearly sets out the employers’ compensation for the aforementioned cost as well as the monthly expenses for the use of the employees’ home.

‘The relevant expenses are not a salary, but incurred cost for the employer, are not subject to any tax or fee, nor are they liable to insurance contributions of either employer or employee and are estimated proportionally to the frequency and duration of remote work, the provision or not of equipment and any other relevant elements.

The right to disconnect

Of significance to the proposed legislation is also the right to disconnect due to remote work, secured through the relevant legislation being looked into by the Labour ministry, along the guidelines of the Greek bill.

On this issue, the bill states that the employee working remotely has the right to disconnect, which consists of taking a full break from work and particularly not digital communication and no response to calls, emails or any form of communication beyond working hours and during his allowed leave.

It is also further clarified that the employer is prohibited from any discrimination against a remote work employee for exercising the right to disconnect and that the ‘technical and organizational means required to disconnect the employee in question from digital communication and work tools will form obligatory terms of any remote work agreement and specified between the employer and employees representatives in the business’.

The employer is also required, within eight days from the start of remote work, to notify the employee in any way possible including email, of the amended employment terms; beyond the disconnection right, such remote work terms must include the following:

A breakdown of the additional cost incurred by the remotely working employee at the relevant time and particularly the communication and equipment cost, including maintenance, as well as how will this be covered by the employer.

The necessary equipment for remote work, either owned by the employee in question or provided by the employer, as well as the technical support procedures, maintenance and restoring any damage to equipment.

Any restrictions to the use of such equipment or information technology tools, such as the internet and sanctions in case they are violated.

An agreement setting out remote work readiness and its time limits, as well as the deadline for the employees’ response.

The obligation to protect data connected to the business, as well as the personal data of the employee working remotely and the procedures required to fulfill this obligation.

Health and safety issues

In addition, the employer is obliged to inform on the remote work health and safety terms and the labour accident procedures that the remote work employee must maintain. On the same issue, the relevant Greek legislation states that the employee informs the employee in question on business policy when it comes to health and safety issues, particularly including the remote work space specifications, the rules establishing use of visual images and description screens, employee breaks and any other relevant elements.

The employee working remotely is obliged to implement relevant legislation on health and safety in the workplace and not exceed his working hours. During remote work provision, there is no question about the fact that the remote work space must fulfill the aforementioned specifications, with the employee adhering to the health and safety regulations.

The most complicated of the health and safety aspects as well as its control are left to government directives when it comes to the Greek plan. As stated in the document provided to social actors for comments ‘…such issues are to be settled through a directive following a proposal of the Labour and Social Affairs minister, taking into account the opinion of the Communication Privacy and the Private Data Protection Authorities, which set out more specific regulations on remote work health and safety, as well as the minimum technical and organisational means securing the right to disconnect, stating the remote work hours, Labour Inspection monitoring procedures and any other details’.

In particular, as the document sets out ‘Labour Inspection and other competent authorities access to metadata as well as data of communication between the business and the employee through private or public telephony or internet networks and the transmission of digital data necessary to monitor that working hours and the remote work labour legislation is adhered too, always securing the business privacy and employee personal data laws’.

No camera monitoring of employees

The Greek relevant legislation secures the employers’ right to monitor the remote work employee performance, but also protecting their private life. It is worth noting that the issue in question as well as health and safety considerations, constitute the main concern of unions, which remain rather reluctant to have remote work regulated by law.

On performance monitoring, the Greek bill stipulates that the employer should monitor performance in a way that affords respect to the private life of the employee and in accordance with the personal data protection act.

It is further clarified that web cam use for the purposes of monitoring employee performance is strictly prohibited.

In addition, it is also specified that the remote work agreement shall not impinge on employment status of the remote work employee be they full time, part time, shift or any other form of employment, but will only change the work method.

Remote work can be provided full time, part time, shifts, self-employed  people or in combination with work at the employers’ facilities.

Finally, it is clarified that remote work employees will enjoy the same rights and be subject to the same obligations as those working in the business or organisation facilities.