D.he debate about companies in which home office is not possible despite the current lockdown continues to gain momentum. Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) brought potential incentives into play on Tuesday if companies allow their employees to do their work from home. Söder was dissatisfied with the current practice of many companies.
“My impression is that we are going backwards again,” he said after a cabinet meeting. “It is clear that something has to move when working from home.” The CSU politician therefore wants to hold a summit with employer and employee representatives in Bavaria on Wednesday to explore how more work can be achieved from home.
He wanted to achieve that even more companies enable their employees to work from home without being forced. “I can also imagine that we are considering making preferential treatment for the home office,” suggests Söder. He left open what these incentives might look like. He stressed that working from home was “an extremely important tool that has been underutilized lately”.
Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) left it with another appeal after his top meeting on the subject with HR directors from DAX companies. “We need the possibility for employees to work from home wherever possible, where it makes sense and possible, and that immediately,” he said. He is glad that many companies are already doing this in an exemplary manner. The appeal goes to those who have not yet done so. “We must do everything in our power to prevent workplaces from becoming a site of infection.”
Nobody wants to have the entire economy lockdown. “The belts are running and it should stay that way, if possible.” Where work at home is not possible, for example in areas of the manufacturing industry or in retail, occupational safety standards must be consistently adhered to, said the minister.
Unions are demanding the right to work from home
The more and more urgent appeals from politics mean that business associations are once again calling on their member companies to enable work from the home office. Behind this is probably also the calculation to prevent a legal regulation that gives employees the right to work from home – possibly even beyond the pandemic.
Heil wanted to anchor a right to it in law. The Union was reluctant, however. In the meantime, the only thing that matters is that employees should be given the right to discuss a wish for regular mobile work with their employer.
With the unions, you see no other option than a legal right to work from home. “As long as it remains completely unregulated – as is currently the case across the country – it means considerable health risks for the employees,” said Anja Piel, board member at the German Trade Union Federation (DGB). Even after the end of the pandemic, she urged workers to maintain such a claim.
The extent to which employers are concerned that the government may still introduce home office rights in view of the discussion that has flared up is shown, for example, by the statements made by the Association of Bavarian Economy (VBW).
The association, which usually does not show special care for employees and their interests and regularly points out in press releases that regular work must continue even in extreme heat and during soccer world championships, is now urgent: “Home office should – wherever possible – be used, ”said VBW General Manager Bertram Brossardt. “It’s just an emergency measure for the time until the pandemic is broken by the measures of distance, mask, testing, vaccination, ”he added immediately.
Steffen Kampeter also turned against a possible obligation to work from home. That was “impractical”, said the managing director of the Federal Association of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) the Bavarian broadcasting company. But the BDA is “open to think about how we can motivate our members even more”.
However, it is completely open how many employers currently require their employees to be present in the office, although they could also do their work from home. The Federal Ministry of Labor refers to social media and media reports. In fact, the hashtag #BuerosZu has been making the rounds on the net for a few days and is noticeably shared.
Heils Ministry also refers to data from the Hans Böckler Foundation, according to which fewer employees were working from home at the beginning of the “Lockdown Light” in November than during the first lockdown in spring. Specifically, 14 percent of the employed people surveyed stated in November that they mainly or exclusively work from home. In April that was said by 27 percent, in June 16 percent.
Other countries already have a legal right
The political explosiveness of the topic has long been discovered by the opposition: One must now improve the prevention of the pandemic even further, demands the parliamentary group leader of the Greens in the Bundestag, Katrin Göring-Eckardt. “To do this, we urgently need to involve the world of work more closely. That is why we need a lot more home offices wherever we can, ”she said.
The party will therefore submit a corresponding motion to the Bundestag this week. “People must be able to work safely everywhere,” said Göring-Eckardt. “Whenever they can and want to do it from home, employers must be obliged to allow it.”
Some of Germany’s neighboring countries implemented such regulations months ago and sent their citizens to their desks at home – at least wherever possible. In Belgium this rule has been in effect temporarily since the beginning of November. “Teleworking from home is compulsory for all employees in all companies, associations and services,” writes the Belgian Ministry of Labor.
Companies that have to “ensure the protection of the vital needs of the nation” – such as medical facilities, retailers or parts of industry – are exempt from this. The Belgian government has published a list of excluded sectors. If employees have the feeling that the employer has wrongly taken them to the office, they can complain to the responsible social security authority. Those affected even have their own online form available for this, which employees can use to whistle their bosses.
The authorities assure that they will not disclose the identity of the tipster themselves in court unless they expressly request it. At the same time, the Belgian government announced that it would step up controls on holdings. Employers who do not observe the home office measures can expect high fines in Belgium.
France also took similar measures in October. As in Belgium, there is a general obligation to work from home, with exceptions for professional groups who have to leave the house for their job. And in the Netherlands there has been a de facto right to work from home since 2016 – even if this is not explicitly written into the law. Employees there have the opportunity to apply to their boss for a job in their own four walls. The employer is legally obliged to check the request and may only refuse it in justified cases. For example, when the home office is not possible due to the activity or presents too great a security risk. If the employer ignores the home office requests of his employees, this counts as consent.