The basic interest of employers and employees behind having a home office policy in place

home office

Can the employer monitor the work of the employee in home office, either by visiting the employee’s home or through a video camera? How does employee availability evolve in a home office situation? Are the working hours flexible or can the employee calculate with overtime pay? Is it possible to work on a park bench via public WI-FI network? In case of home office, does a home accident count as a work accident? The Hungarian legal system does not necessarily provide a clear answer to all these questions. Therefore, it is difficult or impossible to confidently decide on these issues without having internal home office company regulations in place. Today in Hungary both the employer and the employee are strayed into the legal No Man’s Land with home office. That is why the preparation of a state-of-the-art home office policy is becoming an increasingly common solution in the practice of companies, which is especially true at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nowadays, due to recent changes in employment trends triggered by the pandemic, it’s causing more and more problems that the Hungarian Labor Code does not address home office. Contrary to the common interpretation the term of “home office” is not in fact equivalent to teleworking as defined in the Hungarian Labor Code, which form of working presupposes regularity, work in a specific place and a kind of atypical employment contract. Home office on the other hand is typically a casual form of work, its location can vary, it can be performed within the framework of “typical” employment contracts and it also shows many similarities with the “traditional” or “offline” form of work. The most characteristic common trait of the two categories in terms of practice is that the work can be carried out partially in the employee’s home or in another place of her choice, using the tools and computer programs provided by the employer. The difficulty or ambiguity in terms of legal liability is namely, that given the distance between the employer and the employee and the ad hoc nature of the work, not only the control, the provision of resources for the work, bu the data protection and work safety aspects of the home office as well play a much more greater role.

There may be several uncertainties related to the above issues and the practical implementation of the home office set-up that go far beyond mere IT security considerations. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that employers draw up and publish a policy internally to resolve the formal introduction of home office in the workplace. But what should that home office policy include? First of all, it is recommended that the policy defines the exact areas and positions where work can be performed in home office, as well as specifies such part of the worktime that can be performed in home office. It is also crucial that the home office policy defines the range of tools and programs that can be used for work, as well as exactly how the employee should keep in touch with the employer and co-workers for the purpose of work (e.g. can they reach out to her, for example, at 1 PM via WhatsApp?). Specifying the exact workspace or area, where work is performed in home office can provide both the employee and the employer enough security to prevent accidents and related disputes. A good practice in this respect might be to require a photo of the workspace from the employee (e.g. the corner or desk used for work in home office).

It is also extremely important to lay down rules for monitoring work by the employer in accordance with the applicable labor and data protection rules. When laying down these rules, the employer must also take into account the personality rights of those living in the same household with the employee as far as possible. Thus, before the introduction of the home office, the employer must provide a clear picture of the rules and prohibitions that the employee must comply with. With the entry into force of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it has become extremely important to properly inform the employees in advance about the monitoring solutions and steps used by the employer as well as about the scope of the data processed during such monitoring. Non-compliant employers in this regard risk a high amount of data protection fine.

Considering the realities of the work life of the 21st century, it is also highly recommended to include cybersecurity and data security rules as well as related good practices in the home office policy. The employer risks its own business secrets, confidential information and reputation if it is not clear to employees how using IT equipment in home office environment is different from IT security point of view compared to the everyday work in the office. Employees should have a crystal-clear picture about what data security risks they may face in a home office set-up and what they should do to avoid them. The IT security best practices to be put in the home office policy may include proper password management, the proper use of private devices and applications as well as guidelines on how to choose the exact place of home office work.

Those who really regard themselves as modern employers should give hints to the employees on staying motivated, dealing with the loss of attention commonly experienced during work performed in home office, as well as with difficulties in separating private from professional life.

In the home office policy to it is also recommended to specify, which department or persons within the organization employees can turn to with their questions, complaints or problems regarding home office, or in which other regulations or internal material can they find more information.

The home office policy provides security for both the employee and the employer. The employee knows exactly what rules she must follow and exactly when, in which cases and under what circumstances is the employer liable to her. On the other hand, the employer can limit its liability in the interests of both parties in a reasonable manner and focus more on providing for a safe working environment and appropriate technical working conditions.

Source of cover photo: Pixabay