Return to work after the pandemic
Many employers have had their employees working from home in full or in part during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in many cases working from home has turned out to be quite a success. It has shown that it is possible to work together from a distance, and that most meetings may be held online. Remote working has increased flexibility and potentially also employees' efficiency and likewise it has saved employers' expenses for business travelling and accommodation costs etc. Many employers are consequently considering permitting employees working from their home offices in full or in part on a more permanent basis.
There are various models to be considered when implementing a more flexible work pattern. It may be voluntary based on the employee's own wish, a mandatory instruction from the employer, a flexible scheme with work performed partly from the office and partly from the home office with no fixed days in or out of the office, or it can be scheduled with fixed weekdays working from the office and fixed weekdays working from home.
Pros and cons
Employers considering implementing more flexibility need to consider several factors including that introducing home offices on a more permanent basis may give employees less interruptions and more quiet working conditions besides reducing travel time, which may increase efficiency. The employer can save travel costs for business trips as meetings may be held online and save office capacity costs.
However, employers may also incur additional costs, for example for extra/double work equipment (computer screens, keyboards, etc.). Further, it may weaken the unity of the employees and make it difficult to uphold a healthy work-life-balance for employees finding it difficult to set boundaries between work and non-work activities.
Working environment considerations
All employers in Denmark are responsible for complying with the Danish Working Environment Act (the "Act"). This also applies when the employee works from his/her home office.
The Act stipulates that the working conditions at the home office must be fully adequate from a health and safety perspective. It is a requirement that the home office has sufficient inventory for the work to be performed safely. However, the Act does not set out any specific requirements as to what constitutes "sufficient inventory". There is no rule stipulating that for instance height-adjustable desks must be provided by the employer for the home office. Accordingly, there are different options – and various corresponding costs - when it comes to providing work equipment for home offices. For example, it is possible to allow the employees to bring their working equipment from the office to their home in order to perform the work from home. This would mean that the employees have to bring their work equipment with them every time they change workplace. Another possibility is to make double working equipment available to the employees (and accepting the additional costs).
The consequences of not complying with the Act will depend on the circumstances in question. Usually, the Danish Working Environment Agency will issue an order or injunction to an employer not complying with the Act whereby the employer is ordered to remedy the situation within a given timeframe. Further, an employer not complying with the working environment rules may be fined. In rare cases, the Danish Working Environment Agency may also instigate criminal proceeding against the employer.
Injuries at work
Another potential risk to the introduction of home offices is the risk of a future claim for damages from an employee who has worked from a home office and suffered a work-related injury. If by way of example the employer has not made available any office equipment adaptable to the employee in question yet has asked the employee to work from his/her home, there is a risk that the employer will be liable for such work-related injuries.
Introducing changes to the employment terms
The employer also needs to consider that the introduction of home offices on a permanent basis either in full or in part may be a material change of the employment terms.
The employer has a managerial right and a certain latitude to make smaller changes in the employment, but a material change of the employment terms may only be imposed by the employer by observing the individual notice period of each employee or by entering into an agreement with the employee on the matter. The usual termination consequences will apply if the employer introduces a material change of the employment terms and the employee chooses not to accept such amended employment terms.
As described above, there are many ways to introduce flexible work patterns. Every employer must weigh the pros and cons when choosing work patterns moving forward from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic has proved that working from home is indeed possible and potentially beneficial for the organisation, it should be emphasised that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to flexible work patterns.
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.