Under the new Infections Protection Act, officially approved by Germany’s Bundesrat on Thursday, employees will for the first time be legally required to work in their homes if requested to do so by their employers.
And employers, in turn, must send employees home where “there are no compelling operational reasons to the contrary,” according to the new legislation, first passed in Germany’s parliament on Wednesday.
The new legislation is expected to come into effect starting next week.
Previously, employers had to offer ‘home office’ where possible, yet employees were free to decide whether to accept the offer, or to go to the office anyway.
The new law now states: “Employees must accept this offer unless there are reasons for them not to do so.”
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A few weeks ago, a study from a Munich-based researcher revealed that the vast majority of German employees were still coming into their place of work, even though experts have estimated that around 56 percent could potentially work from home during the pandemic.
In addition, there have been a number of recent reports suggesting that some companies aren’t putting basic hygiene measures in place for employees, even though Covid-19 infection rates are at a critical point.
Will more employees work from home in response to the new act?
It’s hard to say, however, how effective the new legislation will be in getting more employees to set up their office at home.
Workers can claim exceptions – without giving evidence – as to why working from home is not suitable for them.
Furthermore, the newly formulated home office rules – unlike before – are no longer linked to threats of fines for those who still head into their workplace.
Possible exceptions for employees who nevertheless do not want to work at home are listed in the notes in the new act.
“Reasons for not doing so may include, for example, space constraints, interference from third parties or inadequate technical equipment,” it said.
“A notification by the employee at the employer’s request that working from home is not possible is sufficient to demonstrate this.”
Accordingly, if an employee claims that his or her home is unsuitable, this could suffice.
Inspection visits to the home by the employer or Germany’s Occupational Health and Safety Authority are not likely to be accepted.
Testing in the office
As was previously the case, those who cannot work at home must be offered a test once a week by the company.
Those who are in frequent contact with customers are entitled to a maximum of two tests per week.
operational reasons – betriebsbedingten Gründe/betriebliche Gründe
threats of fines – (die) Bußgelddrohungen
not fitting – ungeeignet
equipment – (die) Ausstattung
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