At a hearing on the right to work from home in the Bundestag on Monday, employers and trade unionists clashed arguments head-on. A claim to mobile working is missing and is ineffective, complained Roland Wolf, managing director of the Federal Association of German Employers’ Associations (BDA). The trade union side, on the other hand, no longer wanted to talk about whether, but only about how.
Working at home or on the go is due to the “wish of both sides” and the “specific situation” during the corona pandemic, admitted Wolf. A legal claim to this would “lead to a completely wrong understanding” and “split the workforce”. Such a “gaping mushroom” would lead to distortions because some activities “objectively cannot be carried out from the home office”.
The BDA lawyer also considers the project to be problematic because nobody would want to include the employees’ “aptitude and character” in such a law. In addition, occupational safety measures could not be controlled. Employees also did not want watchdogs to constantly intrude into their most personal areas. It is therefore important not to speak of teleworking that is already strictly regulated by law, as these premises would have to be walked through and monitored.
Wolf also advertised in the sense of one thing FDP application for flexible work in terms of location and time in favor of setting an identical maximum weekly working time instead of a working day. This helps to “further straighten out” the requirements and to create a better balance between work and private life. “We need a flexible working time regime,” suggested Jan Dannenbring from the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH) in the same direction.
The right to work from home is correct, but it works well on a voluntary basis, added the Munich legal scholar Richard Giesen. He is against symbolic legislation in which nobody knows what co-determination rights will actually be added. That would only overload the courts. The professor also said that the employees themselves are partly responsible for the security in the home office. However, they need help to reduce risks in areas such as ergonomics or social isolation.
Legal entitlement, but no compulsion
“We need a legal claim,” said Marta Böning from the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB) against it. Only then would “arbitrary rejections” of applications for mobile working no longer be possible. However, an employer could still refuse if the home office does not work for operational reasons. At the same time, it is quite feasible through appropriate rules to “balance various interests within the workforce”.
Both sides only agreed that there should be no compulsion to work from home. With the new Infection Protection Act recently passed by the Bundestag, employees are required for the first time to work temporarily in their home if their employer offers them to do so. Böning also sees a threat to voluntariness in other respects, since at least half of the companies with over 250 employees are already planning “considerable adjustments” to their office stock.
The DGB legal expert warned that a “system of complete time recording” would be necessary, especially with more home offices. Maximum working hours are justified and should not be weakened under any circumstances, emphasized Elke Ahlers, head of the “Quality of Work” department at the Institute for Economic and Social Sciences (WSI) of the DGB-affiliated Hans Böckler Foundation. “Rest times and relaxation are cornerstones in a digital and flexible working environment.” This applies to every single day, she warned against “switching” to a weekly counting method.
Risk of dissolution of boundaries
When working from home, there is no spatial separation of work and private life, but Ahlers also pointed out: “The risk of delimitation is particularly high.” This often leads to sleep problems, mental exhaustion and depression and could lead to burnout. An alternating approach, as recommended by the Left and the Greens in their motions, therefore has “the most advantages for everyone”. The company workplace must remain like this. Employees should have a say in whether, when and for how long “they want to work from home”.
According to Yvonne Lott, head of the gender research department at the WSI, a legal claim ensures the “legitimacy and normality” of mobile working. So far, lower and middle positions have long been excluded from home office offers, and women from ethnic minorities have had less access to it. In principle, this form of work could increase the work-life balance, job satisfaction and productivity. Having a say in the amount of work to be done at home is “definitely useful”. This would “ultimately serve the whole of society”.
“There is also a right to a job in the company,” emphasized the ergonomist Peter Krauss-Hoffmann. He advised companies to introduce “desk sharing models” if necessary. He attached great importance to the value of relaxation, the eleven hours of rest that has already been provided, and the right to be unavailable: E-mails or calls could make it difficult to switch off and contribute to stress: “The mere expectation of being reachable is sometimes enough associated with impairments. “
It is uncertain whether the grand coalition will be able to agree on a law during this legislative period. Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has been trying for around two years to establish a legal right to work from home. So far, his project has failed due to the resistance of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group.