Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
We’re now in the second week of enforced home quarantine in the Netherlands. Together – leaving aside a few beach trippers and recreational walkers – we’re all doing our bit to halt the spread of coronavirus after the government urged employers to allow their employees to work from home where possible. At the time of writing, hundreds of thousands of workers have set up office on their kitchen tables.
The first few days saw nothing but photos and messages from people delighted to get out of bed and go straight to their laptops. Already, however, we’re beginning to hear the first signs of irritation and physical discomfort. So it’s time to set out exactly what can be expected of employers and employees in the current situation.
Mitigated working conditions regime
Working conditions legislation classifies working from home as “location-independent working.” A “mitigated” working conditions regime applies to working from home and other location-independent working, which relieves employers of certain obligations relating to working conditions. Employers still have to ensure that their employees have an ergonomic workplace, however.
Specifically, this duty means that if employees work from home, the employer has to see to it that they have an ergonomic workplace unless that would place unreasonable demands on the employer. That would be the case if, for example, employees only work from home occasionally and/or for a brief period, although the latter obviously does not apply in the current pandemic situation. At the same time, it may be going too far to expect employers to have arranged a fully set-up ergonomic workplace for all employees as soon as they are ”in home quarantine,”’ particularly those employees who hardly ever work from home. The longer employees are forced to work from home, however, the more the employer may be expected to do.
If employees do not have an ergonomic workplace, the employer is obliged to provide the equipment they need to create one. Examples of such equipment include a monitor, an office chair and a keyboard.
The employer is responsible for any reasonable expenses incurred for setting up the workplace. There are tax benefits available for this situation, which, in principle, make it possible for employers to provide equipment tax-free. One option available to employers is, of course, to allow employees to take their office equipment home on a temporary basis.
Given the statutory principle of being a good employee, employees are also required to make the most of working from home. Slightly more flexibility will be expected of them and they will also have to think about any needs they have when setting up the workplace, thus preventing injuries.
Employers’ duty of care to set up a workplace extends beyond the office. Employers in the Netherlands should make sure that employees have a good workplace and receive necessary assistance in this regard.
Together, employers and employees can take proactive steps to make working from home as pleasant as possible. We are now also working from home and offer the following recommendations:
- Take the time to set up a good workplace at home. Make sure you have a good office chair and a second monitor if necessary and feasible.
- Structure your working hours: start and end your working day at fixed times. Begin the day with a digital team meeting, for example.
- Take enough breaks.
- Get up and move around or exercise regularly.
- Try to enable the use of employer-provided IT equipment to prevent security risks and data breaches.
- Make arrangements with any partners and colleagues about care and/or home schooling for any children or other family members who may require assistance.
- Try to maintain enough social contact, albeit at a distance.
- Discuss any problems with the arrangement so that a solution can be found.