October 2020 – Many companies are still directing employees to work from home due to the new COVID-19 economic and social reality. Some businesses are even reconsidering their office needs and plan to hire employees who are entirely home-based. While the spring lockdown caught many employers — as well as the authorities in charge of compliance — unprepared for remote work, today companies have no excuse for failing to meet labour law requirements. We have prepared the following list to remind employers of their main obligations in relation to remote work.

1. Provide the necessary technical and communication equipment. According to the Bulgarian Labour Code, it is at the employer's discretion to assess the necessary equipment for an employee. At the same time, employers have the obligation to ensure that employees have access to all essential technical and communication means to perform their work activities properly. If this obligation is not met, companies cannot expect employees to fulfil their duties, while employees may lawfully refuse to do so.

2. Cover the communication or connection costs for remote work or reimburse expenses incurred by employees. It is part of an employer's general obligation to provide employees with the necessary resources to work from home. Such costs may include internet connection, business telephone calls, office supplies, etc. Typically, such costs are covered by employees and then repaid by the company through: (i) a lump sum payment based on an estimation of the cost; or (ii) reimbursement of the actual expenses upon delivery of a fiscal receipt, invoice or an equivalent accounting document.

3. Keep up to date with the occupational health and safety of remote workers. Employers remain responsible for providing safe and healthy working conditions, including for employees working from home. Apart from the risks related to a particular job, special attention should be given to the risks caused by COVID-19 and the psychological risks related to isolation and lack of regular interactions with colleagues. The company's occupational health and safety assessment should be updated to reflect these new risks. It is also recommended to conduct preliminary and refresher training sessions on the occupational health and safety requirements that remote workers should observe.

4. Ensure that working time is being properly tracked. It is harder for employers to oversee working time or track overtime when employees work remotely. Implementing proper reporting or a working-time tracking system may be the only way to control the time employees actually spend working. This may also help companies keep up with the recent guidance from the European Social Partners Framework Agreement on Digitalisation on how to respect an employee's right to disconnect. This has become crucial for home workers, where the boundaries between work and personal life are blurred.

5. Train, retrain and up-skill employees working from home so that they can apply the equipment, applications or digital tools at their job. Employers have a general obligation to train employees how to use the equipment provided for work. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation and optimisation of processes, which results in the rapid adoption of new technologies and tools by companies. As a result, employers should pay special attention to this obligation and ensure that workers can perform their jobs effectively and efficiently from their homes using new tools and skills.

6. Ensure that employees comply with all GDPR and confidentiality requirements. A workforce that is spread across many different locations requires a new approach to security to allow companies to maintain data in line with the GDPR. Employers should update their cybersecurity policy to reflect work from home, to control access to data and ensure safe connections. Once again, employers should train employees on the security tools and processes they need to use while working remotely.

7. Put in place a proper work-from-home / teleworking policy. Among others, this policy can detail the specific work organisation applicable to remote workers, including the distribution and coordination of work tasks and authority, reporting lines, measuring performance, etc.

Please note that the above list is a general overview of employer obligations with regard to remote work and does not cover all types of cases arising from various business specifics.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.