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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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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Argentina

  • at MBB Balado Bevilacqua
  • at MBB Balado Bevilacqua
  • at MBB Balado Bevilacqua

Please see question 12.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Australia

  • at People + Culture Strategies

Currently, there are no specific laws governing an employer’s obligations in respect of the health and safety of remote workers.

However, Safe Work Australia, which is responsible for developing national policy relating to work health and safety, has published detailed guidelines for remote work. These set out in detail what an employer’s duty of care for the health and safety of their workers means in the context of working from home arrangements, including providing practical advice and guidance as to how employers can identify risks to the mental health of workers at home through to how employers can ensure workers are taking rest and meal breaks entitlements.

While this policy does not create any legal obligations per se, it would be relevant to assessing whether an employer has met its health and safety obligations in respect of employees that may be working remotely.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

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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Belgium

  • at Van Olmen & Wynant

As a result of the pandemic, the issue of health and safety in a teleworking context has received greater attention. Yet, employers hardly have any (meaningful) obligations regarding a remote worker’s well-being. CBA No. 149 introduced several provisions in this regard, for example, the obligation to inform teleworkers about the company’s policy on well-being at work and preventive measures, including those regarding the setting of the workstation, and the use of displays and technology.

In addition, remote workers should be informed of the contact details of different staff members, such as their immediate supervisor; the advisers responsible for occupational safety, medical and psychological aspects of work; and, if applicable, a confidential advisor (ie, a confidant with whom employees can discuss any issues they have).

Furthermore, employers must provide measures to maintain the connection of remote workers with their colleagues and with the company, to prevent isolation.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Brazil

  • at Pinheiro Neto
  • at Pinheiro Neto Advogados

The pandemic ignited a discussion as to the classification of covid-19 as an occupational or general disease. That classification influences the type of social security pension employees are entitled to and most importantly if employees will have job protection after their medical release – as this is limited to occupational diseases or accidents only. Although the law is not clear on such classification – as the understanding has changed throughout the pandemic by the issuance and cancellation of certain regulations – the current stand is that it will depend on proof of the existence of a causal link between work and covid-19 and employers’ actions towards preventing covid-19 from spreading in the workplace.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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France

  • at Proskauer Rose
  • at Proskauer Rose
  • at Proskauer Rose

The pandemic does not strictly speaking have an impact on employers' obligations towards workers' health and safety beyond the physical workplace. But the National Interprofessional Agreement on remote status was renegotiated on 26 November 2020 and strongly raised awareness among employers on those issues to:

  • Communicate within the work community;
  • Adapt the managerial practices: trust and definition of clear objectives;
  • Train managers and employees;
  • Maintain social ties and prevent employees from isolation: it is useful to plan group time, to set up remote communication means to facilitate exchanges, to assist in case of difficulties with computer tools, etc; and
  • Make available to all employees, including those working from home, relevant contacts so that employees in vulnerable situations can use them.
Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Germany

  • at CMS Hasche Sigle

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

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Greece

  • at Kyriakides Georgopoulos Law Firm
  • at Kyriakides Georgopoulos Law Firm
  • at Kyriakides Georgopoulos Law Firm

Based on the provisions of the new law, employers must introduce a health and safety-related company policy or individually notify each employee regarding the company’s applicable health and safety measures.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Hong Kong

  • at Lewis Silkin
  • at Lewis Silkin
  • at Lewis Silkin

The laws on the mental and physical wellbeing of employees have not changed in Hong Kong as a result of the pandemic. Employers are still required to ensure that their employees’ health and safety is upheld; however, this may be more challenging when employees are working remotely, especially where employers do not have an effective infrastructure already set up to deal with remote working and staying in touch with each other.

The pandemic has caused a wide range of mental health issues from anxiety to loneliness, not being able to turn off to not being able to self-motivate, dealing with loss and grief, and having to balance working life, homeschooling and other caring responsibilities. Employers have developed an increased awareness of these issues being experienced by their staff and some have introduced specific mental health policies and measures to try to assist their staff during this period. If these mental health issues are not dealt with properly, they can lead to grievances, sickness absence, disability discrimination claims or constructive dismissal claims.

Employers have also had to grapple with how to treat time off for covid-19 and long covid, and some have adapted their existing sick leave policies accordingly.

In addition, employers have needed to consider whether their employee compensation insurance covers remote working, whether their private health insurance covers all types of covid-19 treatment and whether their travel insurance covers their employees travelling abroad for business and contracting covid-19.

Last updated on 11/10/2021

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India

  • at Nishith Desai
  • at Nishith Desai

Since the dawn of the pandemic, with employees working remotely from different locations, employers are grappling with the applicability of health and safety-related laws such as state-specific shops and establishments acts (S&E Acts), the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 (CLRA), establishment-specific legal mandates such as the requirement of creche provision under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, and laws related to employee compensation for injuries and the like concerning remote workers. However, there is a lack of legal precedent in India providing for clarity on the application of the age-old laws to the current remote working scenario and this area of jurisprudence is at its nascent stage.

Having said that, certain laws such as the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 have a wide definition of workplace to cover an employee’s dwelling place or house. In light of new remote-working arrangements, it has become essential for employers to update their policies to address such legal considerations adequately, from an employer’s duty of care perspective.

Last updated on 18/11/2021

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Ireland

Ireland

  • at Littler

The pandemic has not directly impacted employers’ obligations beyond the physical workplace from a health and safety perspective, as the legal duties and responsibilities that apply to employers predate the pandemic. The difference is that these issues have assumed a higher level of attention due to the wholesale adoption of remote working as a result of the pandemic.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Italy

  • at Toffoletto De Luca Tamajo

As mentioned, employers must implement all the necessary measures in order to protect employee health. This obligation needs to be balanced with the limits set by privacy regulations. During the pandemic, striking this balance has become crucial and harder to apply. In this context the role of the company occupational doctor is fundamental, as he or she is the only person allowed to process employee health data. In particular, the occupational doctor is also in charge of recommending to employers the measures that should be implemented with reference to each employee.

©Toffoletto De Luca Tamajo, ©Ius Laboris

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Mexico

  • at Marván, González Graf y González Larrazolo
  • at Marván, González Graf y González Larrazolo
  • at Marván, González Graf y González Larrazolo

No additional employer obligations concerning health and safety beyond the physical workplace have emerged as a consequence of the pandemic, except for the requirement that employers who conduct non-essential activities carry out their operations remotely.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Netherlands

  • at Rutgers & Posch
  • at Rutgers & Posch

The covid-19 pandemic has had a great impact on 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 lack of social contact with colleagues and private and work lives intertwining.

Last updated on 08/03/2022

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Poland

  • at Bird & Bird
  • at Bird & Bird

No, there have been no changes in this regard. Thus, the general rules presented in question 12 apply, although the bills regarding remote work that might be introduced in future may provide for a shift of some health and safety obligations from the employer to the employee, including an employee’s responsibility for the proper organisation of their remote work station.

Last updated on 21/03/2022

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Portugal

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Before the pandemic, teleworking and remote working were rather infrequent, hence there was little guidance on what specifications should be considered in terms of health and safety at work when employees were not onsite.

With teleworking became mandatory during a large part of the pandemic, employers had to consider many new health and safety challenges: particular attention was paid to equipment and conditions at home, with many companies paying for office chairs, monitors and other tools compatible with ergonomic standards. Also, due to the isolation and stress of successive lockdowns, employers enhanced their focus on mental health and well-being.

In terms of legal discussion, there was a significant debate around work accidents when employees are working remotely, due to the lack of specific provisions in the law.

With the new teleworking law, it was clarified that the legal policy for compensation for accidents at work and occupational illnesses applies to teleworking. The law considers the relevant ‘workplace’ to be the one chosen by employees to usually carry out their activities and ‘working time’ as all time during which, demonstrably, employees are working.

Last updated on 07/03/2022

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Qatar

  • at Clyde & Co
  • at Clyde & Co

Not from a statutory perspective; however, many employers have adopted additional mechanisms and assistance for employees dealing with mental health issues.

Last updated on 08/11/2021

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Saudi Arabia

  • at Clyde & Co
  • at Clyde & Co

None from a statutory perspective; however, many employers have adopted additional mechanisms and assistance for employees dealing with mental health issues.

Last updated on 29/11/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

During the pandemic, employers’ obligations on health and safety were limited to issues referred to in question 7. Employers also must inform health authorities in the event of covid-19 positives among their staff.

Additionally, article 5 of Royal Law-Decree 8/2020 provides that the risk assessment obligation towards remote workers due to the pandemic would be met through employees’ voluntary self-assessment.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Sweden

  • at DLA Piper
  • at DLA Piper
  • at DLA Piper

Employers’ legal responsibility for their work environment, as such, has not been impacted by the pandemic. However, in practice, employers have been forced to quickly adapt to the new situation and face new challenges due to the pandemic. As many employers have not had any routines regarding the work environment beyond the physical workplace, it has been important to assess what risks there are concerning employees physical and mental health and how they can be minimised.

Last updated on 24/01/2022

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Switzerland

  • at Lenz & Staehelin

When remote working first was decreed on 18 January 2021, employers had to act quickly to implement the remote-working obligation, while also protecting the health and safety of employees.

Thus, employers had to think differently about how to raise awareness among employees, especially concerning working hours and rest periods. Employers also had to ensure that employees were provided with adequate equipment and materials, such as a suitable office chair that was safe for their backs or a workroom that met the safety and hygiene standards set by the FOPH. In addition, the authorities also issued guidelines for employees.

Last updated on 20/01/2022

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Turkey

  • at Gün + Partners
  • at Gün + Partners
  • at Gün + Partners

Please see question 12. The general health and safety obligations of employers do apply to the performance of tasks at or beyond the physical workplace, as much as is practicable. However, employers must avoid breaches of the right to privacy, and therefore cannot intervene in an employee’s private life beyond the physical workplace.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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UAE

  • at Clyde & Co
  • at Clyde & Co

Not from a statutory perspective, but many employers have adopted additional mechanisms and assistance for employees dealing with mental health issues.

Last updated on 08/11/2021

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United Kingdom

  • at Littler

The pandemic has not directly impacted employers’ obligations beyond the physical workplace from a health and safety perspective, as the legal duties and responsibilities that apply to employers predate the pandemic. The difference is that these issues have assumed a higher level of attention due to the wholesale adoption of remote working as a result of the pandemic.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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United States

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

With covid-19, the focus has shifted from workplace injury to workplace illness. Thus, the obligations have been expanded in that employers have had to think about exposures both inside and outside the workplace, and establishing safety protocols to help prevent employees from bringing the hazard into the workplace. 

Up-to-date information on the USA’s response to the pandemic, including State-level news and developments, can be found at Littler’s covid hub here.

Last updated on 21/09/2021