During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of workers have left their offices and are working from home. The 'best example' is established from the outset by the European Commission and other EU institutions, offering officials full-time teleworking status.
In Cyprus, teleworking, in the form of remote work or working from home, via the use of modern information and communication technologies, has not specifically been provided for, in legislation. The European Agreement on Teleworking has not yet been incorporated into Cyprus collective agreements or national legislation, although it did set parameters for its incorporation since July 2005.
The Social Insurance Scheme makes no special distinction in cases of teleworking and classifies, in the category of compulsory insured employees, all those employed in the employer's service, regardless of the place, time and manner of work. One could argue, moreover, that there is no conflict between the Regulations in force and the European Agreement, especially in connection with safety and health matters and teleworking. But we must not forget that this has not yet been tested within the confinements of the law and the Courts and at some stage, when such issues might arise, these will have to be dealt with accordingly and within the framework of the existing legislation and the European Agreement.
Germany, as a European country, has taken a step forward in its interpretation of the European Agreement in relation to Teleworking. Through the competent Ministry, a bill has been introduced establishing the legal claim of the employee in relation to the home-office, as it is called in Germany. The reactions are strong, however, both on the part of employers and on the part of employees. As many critics have pointed out, teleworking requires a relationship of trust between employers, superiors and colleagues, while a law would raise a number of questions: "How are working conditions regulated? When and how should I be available at home for my employer? What about office equipment, such as a desk with adjustable height that is better for one’s back than the kitchen table. And who pays for the resources?”
You could argue that allowing its employees to work entirely in teleworking would save resources from building maintenance and operating costs. Workers would also save money because they would no longer be required to travel to and from their workplace. A win-win situation, one would think. Of course, we must not forget that what is happening during this pandemic period is not the norm.
Another problem that arises from teleworking is the issue of worker safety. The worker working from home does not have the employer's insurance cover in the event of an accident, as he does at the office, except for activities that are "directly related to the subject matter of the work". To give the simplest example: "Anyone who trips while going to the kitchen to make their cup of coffee is not covered by the statutory accident insurance...".
But what if the employee does not wish to telework? Actually, that is a question that baffles me as an employer. Teleworking certainly cannot be imposed unilaterally by the employer on the employee against his will. Could the employee's refusal to consent to this form of work result in his dismissal or any other adverse treatment?
The fact that teleworking has not yet been incorporated into collective agreements in Cyprus, nor, of course, into legislation, is a sign of low priority on the agenda of the social partners. One possible explanation for this is the low to non-existent incidence of teleworking in the past. But now, in light of the coronavirus pandemic where workers leave their offices and work from home, it brings to the fore the need for special arrangements, if not through legislation, at least at the level of sectoral Collective Agreements. Cyprus, as a full member of the European Union, should make those necessary modifications in order to fully adapt to the new circumstances that this pandemic has brought about.
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