Remote working: what does it really mean?

by Stefano Trifirò

 

Just over a week has passed since the Prime Ministerial Decree of 11 March 2020 expressly made a recommendation on the maximum use by companies of remote working methods for all those activities that can be carried out offsite. In order to facilitate the entrepreneur in the most rapid application of agile working methods, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers already issued a decree on 1 March 2020. It detailed the new simplified procedure for the sending of agile working communications for the epidemiological emergency period. The access which, among other things, involves simply sending an Excel spreadsheet without requiring the prior formalization of an agreement with the workers.

The extreme immediacy of the administrative obligations requested by the employer could lead people to believe that there are no further precautions to be taken. However, this is not so. In fact, what is not directly evident from the decree, but which the National Insurance Institute underlined on March 10th, is that the many employer obligations towards the remote worker remain the same as per Law n. 81 22 May 2017, and that these obligations are even more stringent in the current Covid-19 health emergency situation. In fact, the aforementioned Law 81/2017 imposed in the first place, precise workplace safety obligations relevant also under the well-known profiles referred to in art. 2087 of the Civil Code. It is made for the employer with an express obligation to provide the worker with safe and appropriate working tools for the performance of their duties. Furthermore, to send the same written information for safety about the generic and specific risks of the execution of the work remotely.

As for the work tools and their suitability for carrying out the tasks that the employee is entrusted with, it has been highlighted in the recent press that within a few days 554,754 workers had access for the first time and suddenly, to remote work. This was not only with a considerable overload of data traffic (increased on average between 20% and 50%), but also in some cases, with non-existent or unsuitable work tools. It follows that, after the immediacy of the first few days, the employer cannot be considered exempt from providing the worker with the necessary work tools for carrying out work from home, such as personal computers and, if necessary, a suitable internet connection. These tools, mind you, do not represent benefits, but goods intended to replace the presence of the worker in the office. For this reason, they must be provided, but at the same time strictly limited to work during the period of home isolation and with disciplinary responsibilities and return obligations that ensue for the employee.

As for the information to employees, it is also necessary to include the risk of contagion from COVID-19, due to the known epidemiological risks that have explicitly justified the facilitated remote working as per DPCM in home isolation. Therefore, it will be required to add to the workplace health and safety rules, specific standards concerning the conduct that the worker is obligated to have in order to avoid the coronavirus health risks. For example, precise instructions on interpersonal distances and the sanitation of rooms and devices. This is necessary because unlike what happens with normal infectious diseases, the health risks associated with the Coronavirus epidemic are likely to be recognized as specific, foreseeable and, due to the effect, preventable risks by the employer.

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