Poland: Working Time Management In A Business Service Center

Last Updated: 2 March 2018
Article by Agnieszka Fedor

Over the past five years the Polish market for business service centers has doubled—to more than 190,000 employees in over 930 centers. It is still one of the fastest growing sectors in the country, despite stiff competition from other CEE Countries, with its reasonable employment costs.

It seems fairly obvious that one of the key factors in the success of a business service center is skillful management of the employee's working time, as this directly influences efficiency and profitability.

There are two basic models for business service center operations in Poland: (1) those that provide services only within Europe (and some of those only within the EEC) and (2) those that provide their services globally. Due to limited time zone differences, the first model is much easier to implement in terms of planning and time management, whereas the second model requires continuous operation and personnel availability around the clock—following the sun and business hours in Russia, London, New York and Shanghai.

The regulations governing working time in Poland are quite restrictive and require employers to put in a lot of effort at the initial phase, i.e. when designing working time systems and related documentation. Employers are also required to collect a large amount of working-time related data and records—and to make them available at the request of the labor inspector.

At the same time, employers may make use of solutions offered by the law to tailor working time schemes to their business model and specific needs.

The business service center sector has been growing so rapidly in Poland that provisions of the Polish Labor Code have been amended to address its specific needs. Human resources managers at the first generation of service centers complained about their inability to comply with the Labor Code's business requirements when providing services globally. For example, Polish law only allows for work on Sunday and national holidays in very limited cases. Before this law was amended, service centers were not among those limited cases worthy of exemption. As a result, the centers were unable to provide their services in a situation where, for example, a Monday in Hong-Kong was still a Sunday in Warsaw, or where a Polish national holiday was a regular business day in other countries.

In 2014, following significant pressure from the service centers, Poland implemented new provisions in its Labor Code allowing employees who provide services to recipients outside Poland via electronic communication or telecommunication devices to work on Saturdays and Sundays, subject to one condition: The day when the recipient receives said services must be a working day in the recipient's location. The same principle applies to support staff essential to these services.

Initially, the difficulty of implementing relevant procedures, verifying time zones, ascertaining public holidays in multiple countries and producing evidence of compliance in the event of a visit from the labor inspector was immense. Despite that, many centers made liberal use of this exemption, especially the provision making it applicable to support staff, since the need to provide IT and administrative support on working days was easy to justify. In many instances, the new rule was extended to entire organizations. Due to its popularity, the labor inspection issues were short-lived, implementation of this provision became more rational, and it is no longer causing any significant issues.

Service centers are focused on efficiency and finding the best business solutions. This has led to companies implementing very flexible regimes that test the boundaries of the nation's working time regulations, such as expanding the definition of shift work to include a group of employees that works only on weekends and widely implementing home-office work to maximize the availability of employees for global teams, minimize the amount of office space needed (a significant cost factor) and enable employees (mainly women) who must juggle work challenges and family obligations to spend more time at home.

Improper time management, including failure to strictly supervise the performance (e.g., correspondence flow) of subordinate employees, often results in serious financial risks, including the payment of significant sums in overtime. For service centers, the initial period of operation is particularly sensitive because, due to operational needs, employees frequently work long hours and exceed working time norms. Implementing well-drafted internal regulations and procedures may significantly limit these risks, but employers also should be aware that the technological solutions used by service centers to track all user activity can also provide very useful evidence to employees (or, in many cases, ex-employees) in the event of litigation relating to unpaid overtime.

Employment and Labor lawyers are able to support and address many specific business and operational needs of business service centers, but this process requires cooperation from the parties and understanding of the environment and the challenges faced by such organizations.

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