Workers’ paradise? Portugal’s new Teleworking Law is a flak

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LISBON (Portugal) — Portugal’s new law regarding working from home makes it sound like a worker’s paradise.

It is illegal for companies to attempt to reach employees outside of normal business hours. They must pay their staff’s home gas, electricity and internet bills. It is forbidden for bosses to use digital software to monitor the activities of their teleworkers.

The law may not work, but that’s the problem. Critics claim that the new rules are vague, unfeasible and ill-conceived. They could even backfire, making it difficult for companies to allow employees to work from home.

Jose Pedro Anacoreta is an employment lawyer at PLMJ in Portugal. He says that the law is poorly written and does not meet everyone’s needs. It’s not good for anyone.  It makes no sense.”

The COVID-19 pandemic in many parts of the world has intensified a trend towards digitalization and flexible work arrangements. Governments are trying to make it easier for workers to work from home as a result of such a dramatic shift in the employment landscape. These efforts are still in their infancy.

To stop the spread of COVID-19, many Europeans have stopped coming to work since March 2013.

European workers protections are regarded as treasured entitlements, which is a stark contrast to the United States. For example, laying off staff members can result in substantial severance payments.

The governments’ legislative responses to the shift to more extended working from home have been inconsistent and fragmented without a promised directive by the European Commission on how to legalize it.

Teleworking was recommended by some countries during the pandemic. Other countries, such as Portugal, have requested it. Although most EU countries have a specific law on teleworking, they may use different approaches and other countries are looking at it through extensions, amendments or conventions.

In recent years, home-working has grown in popularity. Workers’ “right of disconnect” allowed them to disregard work matters outside of normal working hours. This was before the pandemics in Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Spain, and Spain. It is becoming the norm.

Portugal has taken this concept one step further by shifting the responsibility to companies. The new law states that the employer must refrain from calling employees outside of work hours except in cases of force majeure, which refers to unanticipated or uncontrollable events.

Parents and caregivers of children under eight years old can work remotely if they wish, provided that the work they do is compatible for teleworking.

For each violation, companies can face fines of almost 10,000 euros ($11,000.

Portuguese rules address the negative effects of WFH.

Technology that allows you to work from home has opened up the possibility of abuses such as long workdays because staff can still be reached outside their eight-hour shift. These consequences can lead to isolation and attrition in work and personal life.

However, the new law was met with suspicion by those who are supposed to be protected.

Andreia Sampaio (37-year-old communications worker in Lisbon, Portugal) agrees with the law’s intent but believes it is too broad and will be difficult to enforce.

She says that “we have to have commonsense,” and she is open to being reached out after hours if necessary. “We must judge each case according to its merits.”

She believes authorities will mainly only address employee complaints; however, “people will fear losing their jobs if they do.”

The law was prompted by the pandemic, but could be in force by Dec. 1.

It was largely created by the center-left Socialist Party which has governed Portugal from 2015 to 2015. It is eager to show its progressive credentials ahead of the Jan. 30 election for a new government and raise a banner regarding workers’ rights.

There are practical questions that must be answered. For example, should staff be removed from company email lists after their shift ends and put back on when they begin work again? How about Europeans working in financial markets? Do they need to be able to keep up with what’s happening in Hong Kong and their colleagues who work in different time zones?

What happens if an industrial machine can’t stop? The department supervisor. Who is the company CEO? What is “contact”? A phone call, text message, or email?

Jon Messenger, a specialist in working conditions at the International Labor Organization (a United Nations agency with headquarters in Geneva), says that “the devil is always found in the details… but also in implementation.”

The largest company group in Portugal, the Portuguese Business Confederation (the new law’s author), was not involved in its creation and believes it is flawed.

Luis Henrique, the legal representative of the confederation, said that telecommuting rules must be flexible and tailored to each sector. They also need to be negotiated between employees and employers.

“We treat situations that are totally different as though they were one and the same. Henrique stated that this is not possible. “(The law) cannot be applied to all.”

In one of the EU’s most economically poor countries, it may be difficult to enforce and police the new rules. How long does it take for a complaint to be received and a decision reached in Portugal?

According to data analyzed in Brussels by the European Trade Union Confederation (45 million members in 39 European countries), the number of labor inspections across Europe has “collapsed” over the past decade.

Which country has seen the largest drop in inspections since 2010, Portugal with 55% fewer inspections up to 2018.

Henrique, Portugal’s business confederation, stated that “ambitious, progressive laws…run up against the reality of how they aren’t yet in place.”