Photo credits: undrey

The new report from EUROGIP, an organisation working on issues related to insurance and prevention of accidents at work and occupational diseases, provides an analysis of the legal provisions on telework and recognition of accidents at work in seven European countries: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The health crisis has led to an unprecedented acceleration of telework. This organisation of work now seems to be firmly established, particularly in its hybrid form combining remote and face-to-face work in the office. However, there is currently no European legislation specifically concerning telework. The reference is the European Framework Agreement on Telework, concluded on 16 July 2002 by the social partners autonomously. However, this text is not binding, in that it is up to each Member State to transpose it or not into its national legislation.

In October 2022, the social partners launched negotiations to update the Framework Agreement concluded 20 years ago and to discuss a possible proposal for a European Directive which could be issued in 2023. The latter would focus on access to and organisation of telework, the employer's responsibility for equipment and costs related to telework, the right to disconnect, work-life balance, and the need to strengthen collective bargaining in this area. What is new compared to the Framework Agreement is that the Directive will have to be transposed into the national legislation of the Member States, with the effect of some harmonisation. It is in this context that the new EUROGIP report takes stock of the legal provisions for telework in seven European countries.

With the exception of Finland and Sweden, the countries studied by EUROGIP have legal definitions and/or specific legislation on telework, stipulating certain precise conditions such as duration, agreement with the employer and choice of a specific telework location. The employer generally remains responsible for the health and safety of workers, even at a distance, in accordance with the framework directive (89/391/EEC3) and other specific directives. On the other hand, all the countries covered by the study mention the difficulty, if not the impossibility, for the employer to check compliance with the applicable standards, and to carry out inspections of the workplace, often private, without the consent of the teleworker. In Spain, Germany, Austria and Sweden, the use of questionnaires, checklists, photographs or telephone descriptions aim to overcome these difficulties. In France, teleworkers are usually required to provide a certificate on honour or a certificate from their home insurer on the conformity of certain equipment, especially the electrical installation.

The EUROGIP study also shows that in many cases the employer is not obliged to provide equipment and furniture that meet ergonomic standards. In Spain, the employer only contributes to the cost of replacement in case of wear and tear. In Italy, the employer is obliged to provide ergonomic equipment only when telework is linked to a fixed and pre-established remote workstation, subject to the same time limits as those observed in the office. In Austria, the state has introduced a system of tax benefits to help employees deduct the costs of purchasing such equipment for teleworking from their taxes.

With regard to telework accidents, some national legislations have explicit definitions with varying degrees of detail. In France and Spain, any accident occurring at the telework place and during working hours is presumed to be an accident at work. It is exclusively up to the employer (or the Mutua in Spain) to prove the non-work origin of the accident. On the other hand, the presumption of imputability does not exist in Italy, Finland and Sweden where, in order to benefit from compensation for damages, there must be an indisputable link between the accident occurring at a distance and the professional activity carried out at the time of the accident. In Austria, there is fairly extensive accident coverage within the home (covering work activity per se, work-related travel to other rooms in the home and to meet basic needs), while in Germany there is now accident coverage within the home equivalent to that applicable to face-to-face work.

Accidents occurring during telework journeys - during lunch breaks or during possible detours to pick up children from school, for example - are not always covered. In Austria, some national laws or insurers explicitly state that coverage for telework is almost equivalent to that for face-to-face work. In other countries it only applies under certain conditions. In Italy, coverage is extended only to "Smart Working" arrangements, characterised by the absence of time or space constraints and an organisation of work by phases, cycles and objectives. In Germany, the extension of coverage applies only to journeys to and from school. In Finland, this coverage is formally excluded in the case of distance work, unless supplementary insurance is taken out (private sector). In the other countries included in the study, the coverage of commuting accidents in the context of telework is not clearly defined by law (France, Spain, Sweden). The study also notes that some countries intend or are in the process of taking legislative measures to improve telework accident coverage (Finland, concerning the public sector) or to better regulate the design of the telework environment (Sweden).

The EUROGIP report presents a more exhaustive synthesis, with details of the provisions for each of the seven countries covered and a rich bibliography on all the texts which were useful for its drafting. While this comparative analysis shows that Member States are attempting to provide a legislative response to telework, it also shows that the approaches differ significantly. In this context, the adoption of a Directive would help to coordinate efforts and establish minimum standards for the design of the telework environment.