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Prior to 2020, few employees in most organisations worked remotely. But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and employees worldwide have been compelled to adopt virtual working. This presents opportunities as well as special challenges particularly because cross-border virtual working can trigger compliance issues that many companies are not even aware exist.
A legal lens is invaluable in assessing the overall employment costs of remote working and the potential for increased exposure to reputational risk. Different employment laws specifically apply to cross-border virtual working, from hiring to termination, depending on where companies and their employees are based. And because these can involve multiple jurisdictions, cross-border remote work tends to increase the complexity of managing compliance. The right to be consulted, the right to be informed or the right of consent of employees or employee representation bodies may be triggered when organisations are moving, either entirely or partly, to a virtual workplace. Cross-border arrangements also highlight the importance of treating all employees consistently.
Here are ten key aspects of employment law to consider as you set up or expand a remote work scheme for your cross-border workforce. Every firm’s needs are unique. Addressing all these questions now can lay a strong foundation for success—regardless of how your ‘new normal’ evolves.
When shifting to a virtual/remote workforce, you need to know which employment rules must be observed. Key questions:
You’ll need to find out about your obligations to remote workers regarding their physical health and safety. Key questions:
Remote work can raise important questions of fairness and consistency in employee compensation. For example, you may want to consider increases in remuneration made possible by savings in office costs or travel expenses. Key questions:
With the advent of pandemic lockdowns, many employees scrambled to improvise functioning home offices. Especially for those struggling to manage home healthcare for older family members, remote schooling for children, or the isolation of living and working alone, the challenges of building a ‘work sanctuary’ at home have been acute. A comfortable and well-functioning home work environment is essential to remote workers’ well-being, even as it may become much harder for you to assess the happiness and job satisfaction of those employees when they work outside the office. Employees may want you to cover some of their remote work costs. Key questions:
If an employee’s place of work has changed from an office to a home address, it may be difficult for the company to justify terminating their employment on the basis of geographical redundancy or the closure of a workplace location. Your remote employees may have acquired new statutory rights to termination payments or indemnities in the country in which they have been working. Key question:
The widespread adoption of remote work can have significant consequences for your workforce structure. Key questions:
Many employers are concerned about long-term challenges to fair and effective supervision and assessment for employees working virtually. Key questions:
If none or few of your employees have recently worked remotely, you may need to update your company’s policies and procedures, including amending terms and conditions of employment for many. Local laws may prohibit you from doing so unilaterally. Key questions:
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of workers have been working in a country other than their normal country of employment. Due to travel restrictions and worker preference, these arrangements have in some cases been in place for several months. This is increasing the potential risk exposure for organisations, including in corporate and employment tax, regulatory issues (e.g., if the individual is performing a regulated financial services role) and even a broader range of employment laws applying to the individual in the displaced working country, as the working pattern continues. Key questions:
Ensuring the security of your company’s computer networks and data privacy are challenging enough in the workplace and without a pandemic. Threats can drastically increase when you manage a far-flung network of employees working virtually. Key questions:
For a deeper discussion of how these issues might affect your business, please call your usual Legal PwC contacts.
Or call me: Nicolien Borggreve, Employment Law Co-Leader, Global Legal Network, Partner, Netherlands +31 88 792 5068, email@example.com
Or my colleague: Chris Perkins,Employment Law Co-Leader, Global Legal Network, Partner, UK +44 (0) 7595 609 623, firstname.lastname@example.org