Categories
Writing Workshop

Work 4.0: Working from home and the need for reform

With their study, lawyers Michael Magotsch and Martin Lüderitz point out that the world of work develops and changes from day to day. Especially they deal with the “Right to Disconnect”. This means that “the majority of employees … must not only be reachable privately, but also professionally around the clock”. (Magotsch, Lüderitz 2017) Regarding work in the private sector, the so-called “home office” in particular is spreading in many companies. The new model is particularly profitable for families, where both parents are very busy at work. This allows them to avoid work from home, travel time or even larger meetings with colleagues and thus bring the children to football and dance in the afternoon on time. But what is “homeoffice” anyway? Is this form of work possibly a phenomenon of the working world 4.0? (cf. May 2019)

The working world 4.0 is the name given to the new working world caused by digitalisation, technological progress, globalisation and demographic change. Many employees today strive for a balanced work-life balance and work models that are independent of time and place. There are challenges for companies with regard to personnel and classical structures or order models. Even entire occupational fields are questioned. On the other hand, the new world of work also promises innovation. New occupational fields are emerging – other occupational fields, time-consuming routine processes, such as stamping invoices, are increasingly being taken over by “intelligent machines”. (cf. Wiegel 2017)

It also leads to a change in accessibility in working life as a result of technical innovations. The typically structured working day, depending on location and aids, with certain start and end times, is becoming increasingly rare. Instead, employees are increasingly able to work independently and autonomously. Whether on the train or from home (cf. Magotsch, Lüderitz 2017).

The English term Homeoffice is now also at home in Germany. The term can best be translated as “working in one’s own home” or “office in one’s own home”.

Similar terms are homework or telework. Characteristic of all these forms of work is that “the work does not take place in the employer’s building” (May 2019).

In this form of work, the employee is in permanent employment, in comparison to teleworking or homeworking, and only pursues his work or activity completely or completely from home for various reasons.

In summary, it can be said that the possibility of working in a home office is an employer’s offer for employees to do their work more flexibly. But to what extent is this form of work compatible with the legal foundations? How widespread is the homeoffice offer in companies and who has a right to homeoffice at all?

As can be seen in the following statistics, in which 855 German companies were surveyed, the tendency to work in the home office is increasing. In 2014, only 22 percent of the employees worked partially or completely in the home office. In 2018, only three years later, it is already 39 percent. There is a positive increase, resulting in more people working from home and less from the traditional office. The statistics therefore show that the desire to work from home is shared by many workers. (cf. Bitkom Research 2019) However, compared to other EU countries, there is generally no legal entitlement to a home office for every worker in Germany.

(fig.2)

In Germany there are works agreements or employment contracts which allow the possibility of working from home in certain cases. In principle, however, every employee must submit an application to the employer. Subsequently, the employee determines individually for each employee whether he or she agrees or disagrees. If approved, basic rules, such as the hours that can be spent at home, attending meetings, or general responsibilities, should be written down and signed by both sides. (cf. ADVOCARD Rechtsschutzversicherung (Hrsg.) AG 2014)

In the event that the employer agrees to homework, certain conditions must be fulfilled, which are laid down in a supplementary agreement.

In general, it can be said that the same specifications apply at the home office workstation as in the company office. According to §5 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer must carry out an assessment of the workplace in order to identify possible hazards associated with work. In general, all principles of occupational health and safety (§4 ArbSchG) must be observed. Basically, there must be no risk to life and health from the workplace. Employees are subject to health and safety regulations with regard to the furnishing of the workplace. Consequently, specifications apply with regard to office furniture, lighting, VDUs, keyboards, software and room size. (cf. Oberwetter 2019)

Furthermore, it should be stipulated whether the employee may use private devices such as laptops, etc. and whether this is compatible with data protection and data security. According to the Basic Data Protection Regulation, it is of course also necessary to prevent third parties, such as family members, relatives or friends, from having access to important company data when working from home. For this reason, work must take place in a lockable, separate study, files or documents should be kept in lockable cabinets, access to technical equipment should be encrypted. (cf. Oberwetter 2019)

In conclusion, a laptop on the dining table is not enough to run a home office.

The Working Time Act in Germany has problems in connection with working from home. Especially because the purpose of working from home, i.e. the better connection of job and private life, requires a different, not typical working day.

The prescribed rest period of 11 hours can usually not be observed. If workers who use afternoons to go into the garden with their children and sit in front of their laptops later in the evening, after the children have gone to bed, are allowed to do so until 11 p.m., they are not allowed by law to start work until 10 a.m. the next morning.

Also the Sunday and holiday rest to be kept but also the maximum working time of 8 hours per day, which should generally be kept, poses problems for the employees in the home office. Because especially the workplace at home, tempts you to work in advance in order to have more time on other days.

According to § 4 ArbZG, break times in the home office must also be adhered to in the same way as they apply in the company’s normal office. A break of 30 minutes must be observed if the working time exceeds 6 hours and 45 minutes if the working time exceeds 9 hours.

(cf. ArbZG 1994)

A reform of the Working Time Act is urgently needed so that the working form of the home office also has a chance in reality.

In summary, it can be said that the home office form of work is increasingly being used only because of digitisation, the Internet and the changes in the working world 4.0. The pursuit of flexibility, independence and a balanced work-life balance is becoming increasingly important. In order to achieve these goals, the home office form of work is becoming widespread in many companies. Employees can then work from home, coordinate when they work or spend time with their family or leisure activities. They are flexible and can better combine private life and work. Despite increasing work in the home office in German companies, labour laws regarding occupational health and safety and working hours currently speak against a legal right for every employee to work from home. Therefore a reform of the ArbZG is long overdue. According to forecasts by experts, further development in this area is expected in the coming years. Thus, the home office can be seen as the future of the working world 4.0.