Social partners transpose European telework agreement

Telework is becoming increasingly widespread in France as a means of attracting more people into the labour market and of offering more flexible work solutions. Moreover, advances in technology facilitate a greater take-up of telework. In the light of the European framework agreement on telework, the French social partners have signed an agreement at national level, covering specific aspects of this form of work and ensuring equal rights for teleworkers.

Specific socio-economic factors strengthen the case for telework. These include increasing pressures on conventional employment in companies, leading to the need for more flexible work solutions, and advances in new communication technologies - particularly the use of the Internet - that improve work procedures at a practical level.

In recent years, telework has become increasingly widespread in France, and some sectors and occupational groups, such as those at academic professional level, have systematically adopted this form of work. Employer and labour organisations were, therefore, compelled to address the issue and have drawn up a draft text laying down the basis for telework.

Definition and background

Telework can be defined as ‘a form of work using information technology, in the context of an employment contract, where the work is carried out away from the employer’s premises on a regular basis’. Because telework makes it possible to work offsite, it changes the working relationship and raises a number of legal, social and fiscal questions.

An initial European Framework Agreement on telework (109Kb PDF), concluded between the social partners at European level, was signed in July 2002 and was subsequently due to be transposed to the Member States in accordance with the procedures and practices of the social partners at national level.

On 7 November 2005, all of the French employer and trade union organisations signed an interprofessional agreement on telework. For the first time in the history of French social law, a European agreement was put into practice through a collective agreement. The social partners decided the conditions under which it should take effect.

The agreement, signed by all parties, was prepared over the course of one year by a working group organised by the Internet Rights Forum (Forum des droits sur l’internet ).

Key points of agreement

Voluntary nature of telework and employment conditions

First, the agreement reaffirms the voluntary nature of telework. The refusal of an employee to accept a teleworking position is not a valid reason to terminate the employment contract.

Furthermore, the French agreement takes up one of the main points in the European agreement, namely reversibility. Provided that telework is not a condition of employment, the employer and employee can - on the initiative of either party - agree to end the teleworking arrangement.

Teleworkers benefit from the same rights and advantages that apply to employees in a similar situation who work on the company’s premises. Workload, production standards and targets must also be comparable to those of colleagues working onsite. The teleworker is responsible for managing his or her organisation of work, particularly working hours, within the framework of the legislation in force.

Privacy and collective rights issues

Some articles of the agreement reflect the specific conditions related to working from home: the employer is bound to respect the teleworker’s privacy. To this end, the employer, in consultation with the employee, must determine times during which the employee can be contacted. The works council or staff representatives should be informed and consulted if a means of supervision is to be put in place.

Moreover, the teleworker must be able to meet regularly with his or her superiors, and should also have the opportunity of meeting colleagues on a regular basis, as well as access to company information and social activities. He or she is entitled to the same job assessment interviews and is subject to the same evaluation policies as the company’s other employees.

Equipment

In relation to working conditions, the employer is responsible for providing and maintaining the equipment required for telework and to pay the communication costs involved. Furthermore, the employer shall provide the teleworker with ‘appropriate technical support’ . The teleworker has to look after the equipment in his or her care and, in the event of the failure or malfunctioning of work equipment, must immediately inform the company.

Health and safety

Work health and safety regulations also apply to teleworkers. The employer must ensure that they are complied with strictly, particularly regarding the use of visual display units. The teleworker is required to correctly adopt the safety policies stipulated. In order to verify that they are being properly applied, the employer, staff representatives and the competent administrative authorities are allowed access to the place of telework. If the teleworker carries out his or her work from home, access is subject to prior agreement by the teleworker. Furthermore, the teleworker is entitled, if he or she wishes, to request an inspection visit.

Further information

The working group of the Internet Rights Forum submitted its report of December 2004, Recommandation - Le télétravail en France (in French), to the Minister of Labour.

Denis Bérard, ANACT

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