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Why Germany is backtracking on mandatory working from home rule

The Local Germany
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Why Germany is backtracking on mandatory working from home rule
A woman uses her kitchen worktop as a standing desk while working from home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil appears to be watering-down his plan for mandatory working from home - and will instead make it optional, following criticism from the FDP and employers’ associations.

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Plans for Germany to reintroduce a mandatory working from home rule from October, as reported by the Local last week, are now off the table.

According to news agency Reuters, a new draft of the 'Corona Labour Protection Ordinance' will be diluted to make 'home office' optional rather than a strict rule.

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Since the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, Germany has brought in mandatory ‘home office’ working rules at different stages of the pandemic in a bid to protect people from and limit the spread of coronavirus. 

During these periods, companies are meant to offer people the opportunity to work from home unless there are operational reasons that don’t allow it. 

Reuters said the new draft regulation states that workplaces should create hygiene concepts to protect against Covid-19 infections and that employers could think about offering workers the option to work from home - but it would not be mandatory.

"In addition to measures to implement the AHA+L rule (keeping distance, hygiene good practice, mask-wearing and ventilation), these (concepts) may also include reducing workplace personal contacts, for example by reducing the simultaneous use of rooms and by offering employees the opportunity to work in a home office," the new draft says. 

According to the report, the SPD's Heil is also dropping plans to require employers to offer Covid testing twice a week to workers and instead, employers should give employees the option to test themselves regularly free of charge.

The most recent mandatory working from home obligation ended in March this year. Since then, many people have returned to their workplace on a more regular basis, although the culture of flexible working remains.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Germany’s autumn Covid rules are a giant mess beyond parody

The coalition government plans to approve the new draft at a cabinet meeting in Meseberg on Wednesday, according to reports. The regulation is set to take effect on October 1st and expire on April 7th, 2023. 

Why have the plans changed?

According to Reuters, the Labour Minister backtracked on the stricter regulations following criticism from the SPD's coalition partners, the business-friendly FDP, and from the BDA employers' association.

Employer President Rainer Dulger said it was "time to leave the panic corner and come to normality with corona".

He said companies would implement infection control plans "reliably as usual, while ensuring operational processes and their own profitability".

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany’s autumn Covid rules

Questions had also been raised about the extra cost a working-from-home regulation could have on employees.

With consumer energy prices set to rise to astronomical levels in the coming autumn and winter, many workers may be relieved to know that they will have the option to go into the office to work, instead of having to keep their homes heated during work hours.

A member of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), Anja Piel told the Augsburg Allgemeine: "Using home office to shift costs for work - which includes heating the workplace - onto employees is a no-go."

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