4 September 2023
Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva sent an opinion to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy Ivanka Shalapatova on the draft act amending and supplementing the Labour Code, aimed at improving the regulatory framework on teleworking, published on the website for public consultation.
The Ombudsman is adamant that the proposed texts on occupational safety need be reconsidered and urges that legislative solutions be proposed to achieve actual improvement in the organisation of health and safety working conditions for teleworkers.
“As Ombudsman, I have always supported legislative decisions that would optimise the labour legal framework and ensure healthy and safe working conditions, which would lead to better protection of people’s labour rights”, writes Prof. Kovacheva.
However, she draws attention to the fact that the proposed changes impose additional, non-intrinsic duties on employees who will be working remotely. For example they need to provide the employer with written information about the characteristics of the workplace in which they will work online. In addition, employees must ensure that the premises in which their workplace will be located is of sufficient area and has the conditions for remote work without the risk to health and safety – Article 107i, paragraph 2.
Diana Kovacheva emphasizes that under the current legislation (Article 107k, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Labour Code) it is the sole duty of the employer to ensure safe and healthy working conditions at the workplace, including when the workplace is the employee’s home, and that the employer is liable for failure to comply with that duty.
The Ombudsman also points out that the fulfilment of these obligations is complex and involves actions by the employer and the occupational health service, respectively, to control the factors of the working environment, which obligations cannot be replaced by the subjective judgement of the worker.
“The worker is not in a position to assess whether the area in which their workplace will be situated has sufficient space to enable them to carry out their work remotely without any risk to their health and safety. The worker should not be allowed to assume responsibility for his or her own judgement. It should be based on expert criteria and knowledge that the worker does not normally possess. In this sense, it is not justified for the employer to rely on this judgement either”, argues the Ombudsman.
In her opinion, Prof. Kovacheva supports the introduction of the so-called “right to disconnect” in labour legislation. This is the right of the employee not to communicate electronically with the employer during the period of statutory leave, in order to avoid breaches of statutory holidays and to improve work-life balance.
“I find this change correct and necessary. But I would also like to draw attention to the fact that this right of workers to undisturbed rest should be guaranteed to all workers, not only to teleworkers,” the public defender notes.