Article 2 of the European Framework Agreement on Telework of 2002 defines “telework” as a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/relationship, where work, which could also be performed at the employer’s premises, is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.
The European Framework Agreement on Telework is the first “autonomous agreement”, agreed by the Social Partners of Europe in 2002 and it is binding merely on the signatories. The signatories are responsible of implementing the content of the Agreement at a national level.
General Principles governing Teleworking emerging from the European Framework Agreement
- Voluntary nature of telework (Article 3): The employees and the employer may introduce telework only by mutual agreement. Accordingly, there is no right as such to telework and there is no obligation to do telework. If telework is not part of the initial job description, and the employer makes an offer of telework, the worker may accept or refuse this offer. If a worker expresses the wish to opt for telework, the employer may accept or refuse this request. Additionally, a switch to telework does not affect the employment status.
- Discontinuance: The European Framework Agreement also ensures that both the employee and the employer may discontinue telework at any time without prejudice to the employment relationship and working conditions. On the opposite side, if the worker refuses to change to telework this cannot be a reason for termination of the employment relationship or for changing terms and conditions.
- Equal Treatment and Collective Rights (Article 4): Teleworkers enjoy the same collective rights as their colleagues at the employer’s premises. For example, they may participate in or stand for works council elections and have to be considered when calculating thresholds for bodies of collective representation. These rights are guaranteed by applicable legislation and collective agreements. Among the Member States, a widespread approach was taken to provide teleworkers with the same protection, privileges and obligations as ordinary workers.
There is no obligation for the Employers in the European Framework Agreement to create a new and specific telework set of regulations. The obligation is merely the equal treatment of all employees regardless of their status of employment. On the other hand, in order to take into account the particularities of telework, specific agreements may be necessary.
- Working Time (Article 9): The European Framework Agreement recognizes the general applicability of working time regulations to telework, while at the same time stating that ‘the teleworker manages the organization of his/her working time’. In doing so, the agreement offers more flexibility to teleworkers in the arrangement of their working schedules compared with employees who work at the company premises. Telework Schedule is something very important. The employment contract has to indicate telework Days and hours but the work hours may be subject to change.
- Workload and Performance: The agreement also stipulates that teleworkers’ workload and performance standards are equivalent to those of other employees.
- Health and Safety (Article 8): According to the European Framework Agreement and Directive 89/391, the employer is responsible for health and safety measures at the teleworker’s workplace. For instance, the employer has to inform the teleworker of risks related to the work. This applies, in particular, to risks related to working with computer equipment. The teleworker is, in turn, responsible for correctly applying these safety policies.
It is understandable, though, that in practice it is sometimes problematic for the employer to control and guarantee adequate working conditions, as measures are difficult to implement in
workplaces outside of the employer’s premises.
- Equipment (Article 7): As a general rule, the employer is responsible for providing, installing and maintaining the equipment necessary for regular telework unless the teleworker uses his/her own equipment. Of course, the employer compensates or covers costs directly caused by the work of the employee (e.g. communication costs, internet connection) and provides the teleworker with an appropriate technical support facility. The employer is liable regarding costs for loss and damage to the equipment and data used by the teleworker. On the other hand, the teleworker has to take good care of the equipment provided to him/her and does not collect or distribute illegal material via the internet.
- Training: Teleworkers have the same access to training and career development as comparable workers at the employer's premises and are subject to the same appraisal policies as these are their workers. Teleworkers receive appropriate training targeted at the technical equipment at their disposal and at the characteristics of this form of work organisation.
- Access at Workplace: The employer has access to the teleworker’s workplace. If the workplace is at home, the consent of the teleworker is required before access can be gained.
- Privacy (Article 6): It is of great importance when the place of work is the teleworker’s home. The European Framework Agreement states that ‘the employer respects the privacy of the teleworker’. If the employer needs to access the workplace, this can only be done after prior notification and with the consent of the employee. Any kind of monitoring system can only be introduced after the worker representatives have been informed and consulted, as provided in the Directive 90/270 on visual display units.
- Data Protection (Article 5): The employer is responsible for taking the appropriate measures to ensure the protection of data used and processed by the teleworker for professional purposes. The employer informs the teleworker in particular of any restrictions on the use of equipment and of sanctions in the case of non-compliance; for example, in relation to restrictions to use the equipment for private purposes.
- Termination: The agreement is not a guarantee of employment and can be terminated at any time by either Organization or employee. A telework arrangement may never be allowed to continue uninterrupted if it is detrimental to work quality, client service, the work unit, or the organization. In such situations the manager will make a good faith effort to work with the employee to resolve the situation, but if the problem cannot be resolved, the manager has a responsibility to terminate the agreement.
Termination of the telework agreement should be made for sound business reasons which the employee is entitled to know. In the event of termination of the agreement, the employee will be notified and provided the reason(s) for the termination in writing.In the event this agreement is terminated, the manager will make every attempt to provide sufficient notice to allow the employee to make appropriate dependent care or transportation arrangements.The Organization will not be held responsible for costs, damages or losses to the employee resulting from termination of the agreement.
Agreement between employer and teleworker
A negotiated agreement between the parties is necessary to arrange issues such as work organisation and the modalities for changing work from the employer’s premises to telework and vice versa.
The employer is obliged to provide the teleworker with relevant written information in accordance with Directive 91/533/EEC, namely the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship. The specificities of telework normally require additional written information on matters such as the department of the undertaking to which the teleworker is attached, his/her immediate superior or other persons to whom she or he can address questions of a professional or personal nature, reporting arrangements, etc.
The remote workers have equal rights regarding working conditions, workload and performance standards as employees working on the employer’s premises.
The Employers can determine a general framework for occasional remote work applicable within the company, covering the following items:
- The compatible functions/activities within the Company
- The procedure
The directive, though, does not apply to employees with a contract of less than 1 month or with a working week of fewer than 8 hours.
Essential Information of a teleworking contract:
- the identity of the parties and the place of work;
- the nature of the job;
- the date the contract begins and its duration;
- the amount of payment;
- the working hours;
- the collective agreements governing the employee’s conditions of work.
- The employer must give the employee a document containing the information required within 2 months of commencement of employment.
- Where an employer requires an employee to work in a different EU country (‘expatriate employee’), he must give that employee the document containing the information required before departure. That document must set out certain additional information, such as the currency of payment and the length of employment. These provisions do not apply where the duration of employment abroad is 1 month or less.
- The employer must give the employee a written document within 1 month of any change in circumstances.
The Employers can also determine a general framework for occasional remote work applicable within the company, covering the following items:
- The compatible functions/activities within the Company
- The procedure to apply and to grand occasional remote work
- The necessary equipment or technical support eventually provided for the employer
- The possible availability of the employee
- The possible remuneration to be paid by the employer, covering the cost of the occasional remote work
In addition, teleworkers must ensure the following:
- The protection of organization data on disk, hardcopy, or on portable devices from theft, loss, or unauthorized access during transit and at the alternate worksite.
- That approved firewalls and anti-virus software are on all remote site computers and are updated daily with current definitions.
- That flash drives or other portable drives are scanned for viruses before used for uploading or downloading data.
- Sensitive information in hardcopy form is returned to the office or shredded.
- All work is backed-up according to organization procedures.
- The organization’s network is not accessed from the remote worksite or other locations unless with advance approval and for approved purposes.
- The employee agrees to follow the organization’s guidelines pertaining to the handling of public records.
Products, records, documents, inventions and discoveries made while teleworking are the property of the Organization. The employee is expected to comply with the Organization’s policies regarding inventions and copyrights regardless of the work location or whether work was performed on equipment owned by the organization or the employee.
It is worth noting that Cyprus is one of the six countries that have not yet implemented the Framework Agreement on Telework. There is also no specific telework legislation in Cyprus, even though there is no conflict between current national legislation and the Framework Agreement on Telework to justify its non-implementation. To date, the Republic of Cyprus has not taken any initiative to implement the content of the Telework Agreement.
Authors: MARIA LAZARIDOU and EFTYCHIA KOUZARI-PANAGI