New Ways of Working

Explore and keep track of key legal and compliance considerations for multinational employers as new ways of working become increasingly embedded as the pandemic begins to recede. Learn more about the response taken in specific countries or build your own report to compare approaches taken around the world.

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01. Has the government introduced any laws and/or issued guidelines around remote-working arrangements? If so, what categories of worker do the laws and/or guidelines apply to – do they extend to “gig” workers and other independent contractors?

01. Has the government introduced any laws and/or issued guidelines around remote-working arrangements? If so, what categories of worker do the laws and/or guidelines apply to – do they extend to “gig” workers and other independent contractors?

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Austria

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First, it should be noted that in the Austrian legal system a distinction must be made between remote working and working in a home office. While remote working regularly includes any work without a fixed workplace (eg, also in cafés and public premises) the work in a home office is limited to an employee's place of residence or at least that of one's partner. Only working in a home office is substantially regulated by law, while remote working can still be agreed largely without formalities and is "only" subject to general labour law norms.

The most important government measure in this sector is the Home Office Act, which came into force on 1 April 2021 in response to the covid-19 crisis and the corresponding working conditions. The Home Office Act adapts various existing laws and tightens the legal framework for home office employment. The relevant provisions include a legal definition of a home office, its direct tax implications, and fundamental legal requirements for working in a home office, such as the requirement of a written agreement between employer and employee. Therefore, a home office can neither be imposed unilaterally nor is there a legal entitlement at a statutory level for any worker to work from home.

The relevant legal provisions on home offices cover all genuine employment relationships that are based on a private law contract. Those are essentially characterised by the personal and economic dependence of the worker. It can be deduced from this definition that independent contractors are not covered by those provisions. They are essentially free to determine working hours and places and only owe their contractual partner the production of a result. Therefore, they can regularly decide independently where they choose to work.

From an Austrian point of view, "gig workers" are also ordinary employment relationships under social security law, which is why the above also applies to them.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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There has been no change to the legal basis for mobile working in Germany as far as the employer-employee relationship is concerned. However, at the end of 2020, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) proposed the draft Mobile Work Act. The intention was to give employees a right to request mobile working and discuss the issue so they can reach an agreement with their employer. For any employer that disregards its obligation to discuss an employee's request and fails to issue a refusal in due form and time, the draft law states that the employee's request for mobile work would become part of their contract for six months. However, the draft contains several ambiguities. After employers' associations and individual interest groups (eg, the German Lawyers' Association) expressed reservations, the draft law was not passed. It was not introduced into the legislative process and the German parliamentary elections in September 2021 have rendered it moot.

However, from 24 November 2021 to 19 March 2022, a temporary amendment to the Infection Protection Act imposed an obligation on employers to offer remote working unless any overriding operational reasons exist to the contrary. Employees had to accept the offer provided there are no reasons to the contrary on their part. These may be, for example, a lack of space or technical conditions in the employee's home. Since 20 March 2022, there is no longer any legal obligation for remote working. Nevertheless, employers can continue to offer home office voluntarily.

An amendment to the Works Constitution Act brought another change in June 2021, confirming the works council's comprehensive right of co-determination in the organisation of remote working. This very significant development means that a works council can stop measures through which mobile work will be introduced or changed through an interim injunction if it has not given its consent beforehand, or if the refusal has been replaced by an internal arbitration procedure within the company. Against this background, companies need to involve employee representatives in good time if new regulations for mobile work are to be introduced as part of the "new normal".

In principle, the provisions of German labour law only apply to employees. Employees are characterised by the fact that they are deployed within an operational organisation, performing work that is subject to instructions. However, there are two important points to note: platform workers may also be covered, as the German Federal Labour Court ruled in its judgment of 1 December 2020 (9 AZR 102/20); and wherever national law serves to implement EU law, an extension is necessary. Accordingly, managing directors and employees who are in an economically dependent working relationship with a principal (ie, they have a similar status to employees) can also be covered. This might also be relevant to mobile work if provisions to transpose Directive (EU) 2019/1158 on work-life balance for parents and carers into national law and repeal Council Directive 2010/18/EU are planned.

Last updated on 14/04/2022

02. Outline the key data protection risks associated with remote working in your jurisdiction.

02. Outline the key data protection risks associated with remote working in your jurisdiction.

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Austria

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The potential data protection risks associated with remote working are largely equivalent to those associated with working in a regular workplace, but are arguably even more prevalent.

A significant potential risk factor is the transfer of personal data if it is no longer securely stored on a company's servers. In addition, employers thereby transfer responsibility for the safekeeping and use of sensitive data to the worker. In doing so, employers have a significantly reduced ability to exert any influence. Nevertheless, companies are still generally regarded as being responsible for data protection within the meaning of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which creates a certain amount of friction.

It is also questionable whether a so-called privacy impact assessment must be carried out when working in a home office.

In principle, such an assessment must be conducted if data processing – especially when using new technologies – is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons due to the nature, scope, circumstances, and purposes of the processing.

At present, it cannot be assumed that the threshold for the use of new technologies has already been exceeded in the context of remote working. In individual cases, however, it could amount to an "organisational solution" within the meaning of the GDPR, which also triggers the obligation of a privacy impact assessment by the data controller.

Insecure data connections that might not be constantly checked and maintained should also be considered. Another potential risk arises from it being easier for third parties to obtain access to sensitive data, whether it be persons in the same household or others at public places of work.

From a legal perspective, compliance with data security can also be adequately ensured for remote work, considering the GDPR and the corresponding national legal basis (Austrian Data Protection Act).

In home-office agreements, however, it is advisable to make further reference to data protection aspects. Here, companies should refer to the secure and data protection-compliant transport of sensitive hardware. Additionally, companies should take technical and organisational measures to ensure data security (eg, use of VPN, two-factor authentication with mobile phones, encryption of USB sticks, provision of a LAN network, requirements for secure storage of access data).

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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As in other countries in Europe, the provisions of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its German implementation in the shape of the German Federal Data Protection Act (BDSG) must be observed. Against this background, special measures must be taken to protect personal data in connection with remote work. This especially concerns third-party access to systems when computers and other portable devices are used in the home or on the go. To this end, employers often issue guidelines of standards with which employees must comply.

Also, remote working poses many data protection risks in terms of IT security and confidentiality. For example, cybercrime exploits the vulnerabilities inherent to remote working to infiltrate IT systems and steal confidential data, for instance through phishing attacks. At the same time, the confidentiality of a phone call, for example, is harder to protect while working in a co-working space, on a train or at home than in a typical workspace. Therefore, remote working may require different security measures and employers should inform their employees accordingly. In this regard, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity last year published cybersecurity tips for remote working, both for employees (connecting to the internet via secure wi-fi networks, fully updating antivirus software and using a secure connection) and for employers (providing initial and regular feedback to employees on how to react if problems arise and restricting access to sensitive systems, etc.).

Last updated on 21/09/2021

03. What are the limits on employer monitoring of worker activity in the context of a remote-working arrangement and what other factors should employers bear in mind when monitoring worker activity remotely?

03. What are the limits on employer monitoring of worker activity in the context of a remote-working arrangement and what other factors should employers bear in mind when monitoring worker activity remotely?

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Austria

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Relevant here are first the restrictions on the employer's control of working time. Both the Working Time Act and the Rest Periods Act also apply to remote work and to work in a home office. However, section 26 paragraph 3 of the Working Time Act provides that in the case of work that is predominantly carried out in the home, only records of the duration (not the specific beginning and end) of the working time are to be kept. If the working hours are fixed, only deviations must be recorded.

The practical possibilities of monitoring work performance are manifold due to the IT tools that are now available (eg, log files, webcam). In contrast, in Austrian labour law, the employer's ability to control is subject to important restrictions. Control measures that affect human dignity require either the consent of the works council or – if such a council does not exist – the consent of the respective worker. Both attendance and performance or productivity controls can be relevant here. According to case law, the question of whether human dignity is affected must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In addition to the employer's interest in monitoring, the way the monitoring is carried out is also decisive, so that the possibility of constant electronic monitoring (for example, by controlling keystrokes or screen duplication) certainly affects human dignity[1].

However, it is of course lawful to check the availability of employees during working hours.


[1] Huger in Huger (Hrsg), Home Office und mobiles Arbeiten [2021] Rechtliche Rahmenbedingungen.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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Employers may have various legitimate reasons to scrutinise and monitor employees' performance or conduct during remote work (eg, productivity, to enforce company policies, protect business secrets, health and safety obligations). However, monitoring worker activity is only permitted in any given case if the employee's privacy interest does not outweigh the employer's legitimate interests. Therefore, employers must justify employee monitoring on a case-by-case basis.

As a result, while monitoring employees via webcam is generally not allowed, monitoring employees' browser history or emails might be possible if the employer prohibits private use of the laptop; there is cause for the monitoring; and the measure does not lead to permanent monitoring of the employee's digital behaviour. Irrespective of this, if a works council has been established, the employer also needs the consent of the employee representatives to use a technical device that monitors employees' performance or behaviour. This is the case with any software.

In any event, the use of a keylogger that continuously records an employee's activities is unlawful. The data cannot be used in a procedural dispute, as the German Federal Labour Court ruled in its judgment of 27 July 2017 (2 AZR 681/16). Employers must always bear in mind the need to comply with the principles of the GDPR and the BDSG, as the personal data that employers collect when monitoring remote work is sensitive data. Employers must therefore take all necessary measures to ensure data confidentiality and secure access to company servers. Monitoring of private emails or private browser history is only permitted if there are clear signs that the employee has committed a criminal offence, but even then, the investigation must be proportionate.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

04. Are employers required to provide work equipment (for example, computers and other digital devices) or to pay for or reimburse employees for costs associated with remote working (for example, internet and electricity costs)?

04. Are employers required to provide work equipment (for example, computers and other digital devices) or to pay for or reimburse employees for costs associated with remote working (for example, internet and electricity costs)?

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Austria

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The basic obligation of employers to reimburse employees for expenses incurred on behalf of employers already results from general private law for all forms of remote working (more precisely: section 1014 of the General Civil Code).

However, the reimbursement of costs is more precisely defined for work in a home office. Employers are, in principle, obliged by law to provide home workers with the necessary digital work equipment. If an arrangement has been made by works agreement or individual agreement whereby the employee provides digital work equipment, which includes the necessary data connection, the employer shall pay the reasonable and necessary reimbursement of costs. To this extent, the employer is obliged by law to pay compensation.

This expense is to be borne by the employer, who may, however, pay a so-called home office allowance tax-free to the employee up to a limit of €300 and thereby, or by paying an appropriate lower amount, compensate the employee for expenses, including those resulting from increased internet or electricity consumption.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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Employers are usually required to provide the necessary work equipment when remote working is agreed upon. The obligation to provide work equipment includes office furniture (such as office chairs and desks), IT equipment (hardware and software), office materials (such as stationery and toner) and the necessary telecommunications (like a telephone or internet connection). However, employers are exempt from this obligation if an employee voluntarily chooses to work on a mobile basis despite the business providing company premises.

If the employer and the employee agree that the employee will work at home, the employer usually pays for electricity, heating and internet. However, one-off agreements are usually made in these instances. In addition, the worker is generally provided with a laptop and additional equipment to ensure data security. Office equipment is usually only provided if the employee works exclusively from home (ie, no workstation is provided on company premises). Employers do this not only to save costs, but also to avoid having to check – which is controversial – whether the work station where the employee is working remotely complies with the general principles of health and safety.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

05. What potential issues and risks arise for employers in the context of cross-border remote-working arrangements?

05. What potential issues and risks arise for employers in the context of cross-border remote-working arrangements?

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Austria

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Labour Law:

The essential issue regarding labour law is the question of which labour law should apply. Often, employers will want to apply a uniform labour law to all employees. However, this becomes impossible if in cross-border remote-working arrangements the labour law of the state of residence provides certain overriding mandatory rules and minimum standards (eg, in wage dumping and working time). Additionally, it may prove difficult for employers to keep track of the ever-changing legal landscape in various jurisdictions. Allowing for cross-border remote-working arrangements will oftentimes lead either to higher staffing requirements in the in-house legal department or increased recourse to local external partners. Both are associated with costs. There is also the question of work permits, depending on the applicable local law. 

Social Security Law:
 

While temporary covid-related work at home in other EU or EEA countries (and Switzerland) should not lead to any change in social security responsibilities, the corresponding provision in Austria was limited until 31 December 2021 and restricted to pandemic-related work at home. According to the information provided by the Austrian social insurance institution, covid-related work at home should not have any social insurance and tax law implications. Apart from an exceptional situation such as this, for workers who are working in more than one member state, working or earning more than 25% of the working time or remuneration in the country of residence leads to a change of the applicable social security regulations there. This is naturally associated with (sometimes) considerable administrative effort. The corresponding declarations must be made, and the payment of contributions must be ensured.

From the employer’s point of view, especially regarding accident insurance protection, it is important to note that the exact location of the remote workplace must be specified individually.

While insurance coverage in the home office is expressly clarified, the details concerning remote work in general are still controversial. These uncertainties are exacerbated in cross-border situations.

Tax Law:

If remote work is carried out across borders, this can have (potentially negative) effects on taxation. First, it must be considered that a domestic employer may employ workers who carry out their work both domestically and, for example, in a home office abroad. This may result in the establishment of a foreign permanent establishment through that home office. This would lead to a limited tax liability for the domestic employer abroad. A limited tax liability may also be accompanied by the obligation to deduct income tax via PAYE (pay as you earn). Since national legislation must be considered, this can lead to a considerable administrative effort.

In general, employees should not stay abroad for more than 183 days per year as otherwise they will be taxed in the country in which they are active. Finally, it must be considered whether there are taxation agreements between the countries and how these are structured.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Germany

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There can be potential issues and risks concerning the taxation of salaries, social security coverage (eg, Regulation (EC) No 883/2004) and the applicable labour law for employers in the context of cross-border remote-working agreements (eg, article 8 Rome I Regulation).

For employees who live in a different country than where the employer is based, special regulations in double-tax treaties for cross-border commuters might normally apply.

However, due to the pandemic many cross-border commuters stay at home and work remotely. As such, they no longer meet the conditions to be considered cross-border commuters and the double-tax treaties cease to apply. To avoid a change in the previous tax treatment because of temporary remote working, bilateral agreements have been reached, for example with Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Pandemic-related home working days are deemed to be performed in the country of employment. The agreements are extended until June 30, 2022.

Last updated on 14/04/2022

06. Do employers have any scope to reduce the salaries and/or benefits of employees who work remotely?

06. Do employers have any scope to reduce the salaries and/or benefits of employees who work remotely?

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Austria

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Employers cannot unilaterally reduce employees' salaries because of remote work. A salary reduction is only possible either by mutual agreement or through a dismissal, with the option of re-employment on altered conditions.

Regarding benefits, we believe that a distinction must be made according to whether they were granted with working on office premises in mind and whether the employer has reserved a right to revoke them. In the latter case, employers may reduce or revoke benefits unilaterally. In addition, it can also be argued that, for example, meal vouchers for the company canteen are no longer issued and are not reimbursed. Such and other “social benefits by the company” can be limited to use at the company’s workplace.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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The employer is required to pay remuneration based on an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. Normally, there are no clauses in that contract that provide for a reduction in salary if the employee works remotely. However, special allowances for the reimbursement of expenses that become obsolete due to working from home (such as meal allowances or reimbursement of travel expenses) may no longer apply in individual cases.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

08. Can employers require or mandate that their workers receive a covid-19 vaccination? If so, what options does an employer have in the event an employee refuses to receive a covid-19 vaccination?

08. Can employers require or mandate that their workers receive a covid-19 vaccination? If so, what options does an employer have in the event an employee refuses to receive a covid-19 vaccination?

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Austria

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Vaccination is not compulsory at present (but see below and question 10). Employers will not be able to force workers to have a covid-19 vaccination, as long as no corresponding legal basis has been established. However, the legal situation of workers who refuse vaccination has not yet been fully clarified.

Employers might struggle to comply with their duty of care if workers remain unvaccinated. Co-workers, but also customers, would be exposed to a greater risk of infection if workers are unwilling to get vaccinated. Moreover, the set-up of additional protective measures might lead to a considerable increase in costs the employer is unwilling to bear.

Therefore, the employer has two options:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      A transfer of the worker to another workplace with a reduced risk of infection (no contact with customers or co-workers) should be considered first. If the employment contract does not provide for a transfer of workers and the worker refuses to change his or her workplace, the employer could give notice of dismissal with the option of reemployment on altered conditions. Here, for example, a change in working conditions or a change in the place of work would constitute an adequate rearrangement.

However, a dismissal or a dismissal with the option of reemployment on altered terms may not be conditional on vaccination. Yet, if there is no such opportunity for employment, the worker might be legally dismissed as he or she has nowhere to work. The question here too is if the worker can provide other evidence to meet the requirement of a reduced incidence of infection. Besides vaccination, a negative test result or a confirmation of a Covid-19 recovery will serve this purpose.

On 19 November 2021, the government announced that Austria will be the first European country to introduce compulsory vaccination against covid for all people from February 2022. The draft law is in the legislative process. After the National Assembly (one part of the legislative body) gave its approval, the draft will now also be voted on in the Federal Council (the second body). Exceptions to the general obligation to vaccinate will only be possible for medical reasons. For example, religious reasons are not considered according to the draft law. Furthermore, compliance with the vaccination order is "only" ensured by imposing administrative fines for non-compliance.

By creating a corresponding legal basis for a general obligation to vaccinate, it is expected that the employer will be allowed to take action against employees who refuse vaccination. It is conceivable, for example, that the employment relationship could be terminated because the employee cannot be employed due to lack of vaccination and is therefore not ready for work. Nevertheless, the current draft does not bring any legal changes to the workplace for the time being. Here, the 3-G rule continues to apply.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Germany

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Employees in health care and nursing facilities will be legally required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as of March 16.  Accordingly, employees must submit proof of vaccination or recovery by March 15, or they must have proof that they are medically exempt from the requirement to be vaccinated against coronavirus. Employers are supposed to check the vaccination or recovered status of their employees and submit the proof to the health department upon request. Failure to do so will be treated as a misdemeanour.  As of March 15, the health department can then issue a prohibition against affected persons entering the company or facility. If, as a result, the employee is unable to perform his or her contractually agreed activity, he or she has no claim for compensation against the employer. If an employee persistently refuses to provide proof of 2G or a medical certificate of contraindication, the entitlement to continued payment of remuneration ends. Some courts even accept that the employer terminates the continued payment of wages even before a decision by the health authorities. Whether the lack of immunisation also entitles the employer to terminate the contract is disputed, because the obligation to immunise in health care and nursing facilities is due to end on 31.12.2022.

In other sectors will be no legal obligation to be vaccinated against covid-19. Nevertheless, there is an ongoing discussion to change that situation.

Thus, an obligation to be vaccinated cannot be agreed in an employment contract; it would deviate from the basic principles of the statutory rules and therefore be invalid according to the law on general terms and conditions.

Nor can an obligation to be vaccinated be introduced through a works agreement and stipulated by the employer and works council. According to the established case law of the German Federal Labour Court, the parties to a works agreement are bound by the fundamental rights of the German constitution. In this regard, the physical integrity of the employees who are not willing to be vaccinated, which is protected under the German constitution, outweighs the employer's interest in making vaccination compulsory in the workplace.

However, it is not just permissible for employers to promote vaccinations of employees. New legislation leads to the obligation on employers to enable employees to be vaccinated against covid-19 during working hours. Employers shall provide organisational and staffing support to company doctors and the inter-company services of company doctors who carry out protective vaccinations in the company for reasons of population protection. Within the framework of instruction, employees shall be informed by the employer of the health hazards involved in contracting covid-19 and shall be informed about the possibility of protective vaccination. In addition, it is permissible – if controversial – to provide incentives for vaccinations in the form of a bonus. In any event, it is important to avoid discriminating against employees who cannot or do not wish to be vaccinated because of pregnancy, disability or for religious reasons.

Last updated on 14/04/2022

09. What are the risks to an employer making entry to the workplace conditional on an individual worker having received a covid-19 vaccination?

09. What are the risks to an employer making entry to the workplace conditional on an individual worker having received a covid-19 vaccination?

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Austria

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In exercising his domiciliary rights, it is up to the employer or entrepreneur to decide which persons he allows to access company premises. Therefore, the employer must also be allowed to demand appropriate proof of vaccination. This action is also justified if vaccination reduces the risk of infection with covid-19 for other workers.

However, a separate question to ask is whether an unvaccinated employee is entitled to remuneration during a lockout. This assessment is to be made on a case-by-case basis. Since there is no legal basis for compulsory vaccination at present, a balance of interests must be made here. Many aspects play a role when balancing the interests of the employer and individual workers. For example, if there is a home-office agreement with a white-collar worker, the employer may link the return to work to changed conditions and therefore to proof of a covid-19 vaccination. In the case of blue-collar workers (or white-collar workers without a home-office agreement), however, a lockout with retention of salary will not be justifiable. The legislature currently provides three options to prove that there is no infection. A negative test result, proof of vaccination and a confirmation of a covid-19 recovery (3-G proof) are suitable ways of providing evidence here. Employers are not entitled to unilaterally impose stricter conditions without objective justification and will need to accept all three options. Furthermore, one must also consider the individual situation of the worker. Some workers are simply unable to have vaccinations for health reasons. Therefore, if employers opened their business only to vaccinated workers, they might also have to pay workers who have been locked out, without receiving any work performance.

This could change with the introduction of compulsory vaccination. First, the general vaccination obligation will drastically shift a possible balance of interests. Once compulsory vaccination comes into force, continued payment of wages for unvaccinated employees no longer seems necessary in most cases. However, there will be exceptions, especially for persons who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. In addition, workers will continue to be able to invoke the 3-G rule for the time being – until a corresponding change is made. If this regulation is not adapted, it will continue to be possible to rely on the alternatives to vaccination (testing, recovery).

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Germany

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Under current law, employers may not – apart from the health care and nursing sector – make employment conditional on employees being vaccinated. If an employer refuses an employee access to the workplace, the employee is not only entitled to continued payment of salary but can also enforce his or her right to employment (ie, through an interim injunction to compel the employer to grant access to the workplace and to provide employment). In addition, there is a risk for the employer that the demand for vaccination will be assessed as discrimination, at least in the case of employees who cannot or do not want to be vaccinated because of pregnancy, disability or for religious reasons.

Based on the new temporary amendments to the Infection Protection Act, a “3G” rule applies in the workplace: employees will only be allowed to get access to their workplace inside company’s premises if they have been vaccinated, have recovered from covid-19 or have been tested (with a negative result) not more than 24 hours before the time entering their workplace. Employers must check whether employees comply with this obligation and keep a record. Employees of nursing and care facilities must regularly submit a negative test even if they have been vaccinated or have recovered.

Last updated on 14/04/2022

10. Are there some workplaces or specific industries or sectors in which the government has required that employers make access to the workplace conditional on individuals having received a Covid-19 vaccination?

10. Are there some workplaces or specific industries or sectors in which the government has required that employers make access to the workplace conditional on individuals having received a Covid-19 vaccination?

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Austria

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In principle, there is already the legal possibility to impose vaccinations for certain professions in the health sector. However, this option has not been exercised yet. There is no legal basis for compulsory vaccination in most sectors.

Workers may choose from three options (3-G rule) when they want to enter their employer’s premises. As of now, there is no regulation stipulating an entry requirement to the workplace for vaccinated workers. However, employers may only tighten access restrictions in substantiated cases. Individuals who are not employees may be subject to stricter conditions (proof of vaccination) as a result of the employer’s right of domicile.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Germany

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Yes, in the healthcare and nursing sector.

Last updated on 14/04/2022

11. What are the key privacy considerations employers face in relation to ascertaining and processing employee medical and vaccination information?

11. What are the key privacy considerations employers face in relation to ascertaining and processing employee medical and vaccination information?

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Austria

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It is the opinion of the data protection authority that a targeted question about an employee’s vaccination status is not covered by the legal framework, as two other equivalent methods are currently provided to prove a low epidemiological risk at the workplace (3-G rule).

In practice, however, it will be possible for employers to leave it up to employees to disclose their vaccination status of their own accord.

Employers are currently only allowed to randomly check whether workers have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or have been tested. The underlying regulation does not create a legal basis for maintaining data and prohibits the unilateral retention of personal data. Best practice has been to leave it up to employees to actively disclose their status to employers.

There are no specific record-keeping requirements. Due to the law, personal data may not be maintained and employees must actively disclose their status and consent to its retention. Personal data may only be stored for as long as it is necessary. Furthermore, the processing of personal data must always be limited to the necessary extent (data minimisation). The general obligations of the GDPR must also be complied with.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Germany

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Data that an employer collects to draw inferences about an employee's health is special category personal data. Such data is granted special protection under the General Data Protection Regulation and the German Federal Data Protection Act. The collection and processing of employee health data for the employment relationship is only permitted if the employee consents, or if it is necessary for the exercise of rights or to meet legal obligations under employment law and if there is no reason to assume that the interests of the employee involved in the protection of his or her data prevails. In case of doubt, a distinction will have to be made according to the type of information and the environment in which the employee is employed. Employers are entitled under the temporary amendments to the Infection Protection Act to store and process the personal data on vaccination or immunisation status for up to six months. The data may also be used to adapt the company hygiene policy based on risk assessment, as far as is necessary. Regardless, employers must comply with the requirements of data protection, in particular by taking appropriate and specific measures to protect the health data of the persons concerned in accordance with the GDPR and the German Federal Data Protection Act.

Furthermore, it is permissible to ask whether an employee has symptoms of covid-19. It is equally admissible – albeit contentious – to ask whether a worker is currently ill with covid-19. This is because, without knowledge of the specific danger of an illness, the employer cannot take any special protective measures and might endanger other employees and third parties by employing that employee.

Last updated on 30/11/2021

12. What are the key health and safety considerations for employers in respect of remote workers?

12. What are the key health and safety considerations for employers in respect of remote workers?

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Austria

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Any regulations concerning the general protection of workers apply to teleworkers as well. Only workplace-related regulations do not apply here. Thus, an employer's duty of care does not end at the worker’s front door when the worker performs their work from home. In Austria, several large companies produce videos for their workers showing the ideal design of a teleworking workplace. They use these videos to support their workers to set up their teleworking workplace properly. In some cases, workers are even offered the opportunity to film their workplace and send the video to the employer. Experts then assess whether the workplace meets occupational health and safety requirements.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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Employers' main considerations regarding the health and safety of remote workers should focus on a risk assessment of their remote workplace and the safety training of remote workers. It should be emphasised in this context that employers are only required to do what is actually within their power and control. In the case of remote working, employers are therefore particularly dependent on their employees' cooperation to ensure occupational safety.

Based on these considerations, remote workplaces must be subject to a risk assessment. Employers may try to personally inspect the workplace at the private home of an employee. However, this is unusual and, because of the constitutional protection of the integrity of the home, is subject to the employee's consent. Furthermore, especially in the case of mobile work, it must be taken into account that the place of work is not fixed and is determined by the employee. Thus, the employer usually requests the information required for the risk assessment by obtaining sufficiently specific information from the employee. The physical stresses resulting from the location of the workplace, the equipment of the work materials, the amount of light at the workplace, the height of a work desk; and the working environment must be taken into account. This applies to private workplaces as well as to workplaces in co-working spaces or other work environments (eg, hotel, train). Also, the psychological stress resulting from the duration of working hours, the lack of (personal) contact with colleagues and customers or the increasing mixing of private and professional life must be recorded. Based on the risk assessment of the remote workplace, the employer must prepare instructions on necessary measures to protect health and safety and ensure those instructions are implemented. These instructions should enable the employee to recognise and avoid hazards in their remote workplace.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

13. How has the pandemic impacted employers’ obligations vis-à-vis worker health and safety beyond the physical workplace?

13. How has the pandemic impacted employers’ obligations vis-à-vis worker health and safety beyond the physical workplace?

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Austria

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Employers' duty of care requires supervision of employees in terms of occupational health and safety and work ergonomics, even during teleworking. This was hardly dealt with before covid.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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The pandemic has great implications for employers' health and safety obligations towards their employees, especially concerning mental health challenges due to the change in working conditions during the pandemic. This includes the isolation of workers, the lack of social contact, stress caused by the erosion of work boundaries and the resulting mixing of private and professional duties. This affects women in particular, who in many cases have taken on special duties at work and home and are thus under greater strain. Assuming that mobile work will continue to be of increasing importance after the end of the pandemic, it is important to keep an eye on these stresses and to define sustainable countermeasures.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

14. Do employer health and safety obligations differ between mobile workers and workers based primarily at home?

14. Do employer health and safety obligations differ between mobile workers and workers based primarily at home?

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Austria

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No. Regarding employers’ obligations on health and safety measures, the same rules apply to mobile workers and workers based primarily at home.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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In principle, employers are required to carry out an analysis of the physical and mental hazards for mobile workers as well as for workers who are deployed in a home office. Of course, the specifics of the covid-19 pandemic must be taken into account. However, if an employer sets up a permanent work station in the employee's home or a co-working space, German law specifies these duties in the Workplace Ordinance. This includes not only a risk assessment and subsequent instruction for the employee so that the health hazards of working from home are avoided. The employer is also required to ensure compliance with the EU regulations of the Display Screen Equipment Ordinance. This contains technical specifications on the equipment of the workplace as well as regulations on how the work itself must be organised (eg, breaks with mixed activities).

Last updated on 21/09/2021

15. To what extent are employers responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of workers who are working remotely?

15. To what extent are employers responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of workers who are working remotely?

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Austria

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An employer's duty of care also includes looking after the mental health and well-being of employees who work from home. However, their duties are of course limited only to those aspects that arise from the work performance itself (hence no private factors). However, neither employers nor representatives of the labour inspectorate may enter a worker’s home. Therefore, employers are unable to examine working conditions during teleworking. Nevertheless, employers are still expected to ask their workers about their state of health and offer support. As mentioned above, some employers offer their employees creative solutions. However, the prerequisite is always that employees voluntarily cooperate with the measures if his or her home is affected.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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In general, employers are required to take the necessary occupational safety measures, taking into account the circumstances that affect the health and safety of employees at work, even if employees are working remotely. Thus, the employer must organise the work in such a way that any hazards to mental or physical health are avoided as far as possible and any residual hazard is kept to a minimum. Necessary measures to protect employees must be planned, taking into consideration communication technology, the organization of work, other working conditions, social relationships and the influence of the environment on the workplace. Nevertheless, since mobile workers choose their workplace, employers are not directly responsible for the design of that workplace. This certainly applies where workers voluntarily choose to work on a mobile basis. However, employers must point out the possible dangers and ask the worker to take appropriate, necessary and reasonable measures to protect his or her health. The employer is also required to regularly check that those instructions have been understood and implemented.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

17. To what extent have employers been able to make changes to their organisations during the pandemic, including by making redundancies and/or reducing wages and employee benefits?

17. To what extent have employers been able to make changes to their organisations during the pandemic, including by making redundancies and/or reducing wages and employee benefits?

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Austria

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Regarding changes in the organisational structure itself, large employers, in particular, are relying heavily on home offices and are already planning for a time after the pandemic. Desk-sharing models are increasing0 being considered and actively implemented. This is accompanied by a (partial) return of leased property. In the internal organisation, there is a noticeable departure from rigid hierarchies and a shift towards increased network thinking, in which decision-making processes take place jointly using digital work equipment.

The government and legislature have been very careful to minimise layoffs as much as possible and at least to counteract pandemic-related redundancies. This was achieved, on the one hand, through direct support of the economy in the form of aid packages (compensation for loss of sales, subsidies for monthly fixed costs, etc) and, on the other hand, through the widespread use of short-time work, which was largely financed through state aid. The short-time work subsidy is accompanied by a retention obligation placed on employers, so that there have been relatively few redundancies during the pandemic so far, as the companies have accepted this aid well.

 
Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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Termination for operational reasons requires the absence of a permanent need for employment. If this is only temporary, in general, this does not justify terminating the employee's employment. This also applies to temporary closures ordered by the authorities. Termination for operational reasons should be a last resort, even in times of a pandemic. The employer must introduce short-time work or a reduction in vacation days before giving notice.

Short-time work can temporarily shorten working hours and reduce the employee's entitlement to remuneration. The aim of ordering short-time work is to prevent redundancies and to preserve jobs. The employer has a unilateral right to order short-time work if it is permitted to do so by a collective-bargaining agreement, works council agreement or employment contract. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, various special regulations apply in the area of short-time work. That includes the payment of social security contributions. Special regulations in force for short-time allowance allow the employer to be reimbursed for 100% of their social security contributions up to 30 September 2021.

The employer cannot unilaterally reduce salaries just because workers cannot be employed during the crisis outside of short-time work. The employer bears the risk of employing workers even in a crisis and is required, if necessary, to pay the full salary even without employment.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

18. What actions, if any, have unions or other worker associations taken to protect the entitlements and rights of remote workers?

18. What actions, if any, have unions or other worker associations taken to protect the entitlements and rights of remote workers?

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Austria

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Austria benefits from its system of "social partnership", which is characterised by cooperation between employers' and employees' interest groups and with the government. Due to long negotiations between the social partners in the run-up to the Home Office Act, workers’ rights were safeguarded before the amendment was implemented.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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In the covid-19 pandemic, trade unions and employee associations demanded that employees be granted the right to work from home. Moreover, they required that compliance with regulations concerning remote working and occupational health and safety regulations should be monitored.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

19. Are employers required to consult with, or otherwise involve, the relevant union when introducing a remote-working arrangement? If so, how much influence does the union and/or works council have to alter the working arrangement (for example, to ensure workers’ health and safety is protected during any period of remote work)?

19. Are employers required to consult with, or otherwise involve, the relevant union when introducing a remote-working arrangement? If so, how much influence does the union and/or works council have to alter the working arrangement (for example, to ensure workers’ health and safety is protected during any period of remote work)?

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Austria

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Especially regarding home office work, the Austrian legislature has clarified that such work requires an agreement between employer and employee.  At the same time, however, the legal possibility was established to determine framework conditions under which home working can take place within a company through a works agreement. At this level, employee representatives (the works council) can therefore help to shape the implementation of remote working. However, the conclusion of such a works agreement is voluntary and cannot be enforced. Nevertheless, employers should inform the works council before introducing home working, as the works council has a general right to information, which in our opinion also includes the introduction of remote working.

In addition, various collective agreements for entire industries also lay down framework conditions for teleworking, although their implementation also requires an agreement between employer and employee.

Employee protection in the context of mobile working is already guaranteed by the fact that relevant worker protection laws also apply to remote work in their essential provisions. In practice, works agreements regularly provide for employers to undertake a workplace evaluation to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

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In Germany, employers are not required to consult or involve trade unions or other employee associations when a remote-working arrangement is introduced. Employers can, however, voluntarily enter into negotiations with the union to make arrangements for mobile work at the collective bargaining level.

More important is the involvement of the works council. The works council does not have a say in whether the employer allows mobile work. However, if the company has decided to allow remote working, the works council must be fully involved in any further arrangements. This includes, for example, the distribution of mobile work and office work, work equipment, the design of tasks, data privacy issues, working time and accessibility, and any plans for monitoring workers during mobile work. This is especially true after the Works Council Modernisation Act came into force in 2021, as Victoria Kaule and I have described elsewhere.

Last updated on 21/09/2021