Proposal to regulate telework aims to ensure equal treatment

The draft amendments to the Polish Labour Code, which the social partners are currently discussing, devote considerable attention to the issue of telework. Both economic and social factors influence the incidence of telework. For instance, it appears that teleworkers often achieve higher productivity levels than traditional employees. In many cases, telework offers people an opportunity to commence or to continue their professional career. Moreover, it also offers a route to employment for many disabled persons and a solution to women in balancing their careers with family obligations.

Government to regulate telework

In early November 2006, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Spolecznej, MPiPS) put forward its proposed revisions to the Polish Labour Code for inter-ministerial debate and for review by the social partners (PL0610069I). The draft proposal reflects the agreement reached by the social partners in June 2005 in line with the European framework agreement on telework (107Kb PDF). Moreover, the proposal devotes considerable attention to the regulation of telework.

The proposed amendments would institute a statutory definition of ‘telework’ and of ‘teleworkers’. Thus, telework would be broadly defined as work performed on a permanent basis away from the premises of the employer, through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). The employer and employee could agree that the employee is to work on this basis on execution of the original employment contract or at any subsequent time during that contract’s duration; once the employee commences telework, either party may demand the return to the previous working arrangement, with the other party obligated to honour such a demand.

Unless the teleworker and the employer do not agree on this matter, the employer must provide the employee with the equipment necessary to perform their tasks, and also finance insurance of that equipment as well as its maintenance and repairs. The draft legislation also envisages a scenario under which teleworkers use their own equipment; in such an event, the employer must provide a cash benefit to cover the cost of installing and maintaining such equipment as well as additional flat-rate compensation towards the purchase of such equipment. It is the responsibility of the teleworker and the employer to regulate such issues in a separate agreement, which might also include the agreed means of communication between them. Subject to the teleworker’s prior written permission, the employer may also supervise discharge of the employee’s duties at their place of work.

Teleworkers may not receive treatment less favourable than that offered to other colleagues working in similar capacities with regard to employment terms, promotions and professional training.

In a noteworthy provision, the draft Labour Code entitles teleworkers to demand that the employer carries out a health and safety inspection at their place of work.

Social partner reaction to government proposals

The social partners have not expressed any substantial reservations concerning the proposed amendments to the Polish Labour Code dealing with telework, limiting to technical comments their feedback addressed to MPiPS. To date, the All Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Zwiazków Zawodowych, OPZZ), which is a national-level trade union organisation, has not taken any significant position with respect to the official draft proposal. In the past, OPZZ representatives generally criticised the actual procedure by which amendments to the Labour Code are being prepared and complained about the social partners not receiving sufficient opportunity to contribute.

The Polish Organisation of Employers of Disabled Persons (Polska Organizacja Pracodawców Osób Niepelnosprawnych, POPON) has presented MPiPS with an opinion paper discussing the need to elaborate on the specifications of work stations for disabled teleworkers.

Commentary

The present efforts to regulate teleworking legally in Poland have been launched in response to concerns raised by employees and employers alike. To date, telework is acknowledged at statutory level as a phenomenon which has already marked labour relations in the country. A report drawn up in the spring of 2005 by the PBS polling organisation indicates that some 17% of Polish companies have at least some employees who carry out their jobs off site, over the internet; moreover, approximately 25% of employers revealed a desire to employ teleworkers, explaining that this form of work organisation is likely to result in lower costs while increasing the company’s competitiveness.

There can be no doubt that legal regulation in relation to telework would also bring benefits to those most interested in this kind of work, such as disabled people and women. At present, more than 20% of Polish women declare that their responsibilities towards their families prevent them from seeking gainful employment. It is hoped that telework can enable at least some of these women to re-enter the labour market or to progress with their careers while also staying at home with young children.

Piotr Sula, (ISP)

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