In many EU countries, more than half of the employees who started working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic had no prior experience of remote work.
And even for those who had worked from home before, it was usually not a regular occurrence: while 9% of employees in the EU-27 said they ‘sometimes’ worked from home in 2019, only 5.4% said they ‘usually’ did.
But the pandemic has changed things. More of us are used to working from home than ever before — and many employees don’t want to go back.
In fact, a recent survey found that one-third of UK office workers would take a pay cut to be able to work remotely at least part of the time.
For employees, working from home (WFH) can mean a better work-life balance, less time wasted on the commute and even increased productivity.
And on the employer’s side, these benefits translate into greater employee engagement and lower staff turnover.
Despite these benefits, many companies around the world are now keen to get their employees back to the office.
But for companies in the Netherlands, things are about to change: a new law is set to effectively make working from home a legal right for employees.
In this article, we’ll explore what this new law will mean for employers in the Netherlands, including the circumstances in which they’ll be able to refuse a WFH request, and the benefits that the new legislation could bring to Dutch businesses.
What Does The New Law Say?
As it currently stands, companies in the Netherlands can legally deny their employees the right to work from home without giving them a reason.
But under the new law, employers will have to give proper consideration to each WFH request.
If they don’t want an employee to work from home, they’ll have to provide an adequate reason for refusing.
With this law, the Netherlands stands to be the first country in the world to codify the right to remote work into law.
At the time of writing, the proposal has been accepted by the Dutch parliament’s lower house, but still needs to pass through the Senate before it’s officially adopted.
What Does This Mean In Practice?
If the law is passed, Dutch companies will have to allow any employee who wants to work from home to do so unless there’s a valid reason why they can’t.
For example, imagine a marketing assistant who does most of their work on a computer.
They have a weekly meeting with their colleagues at another of the company’s offices. Since this office is in a different city, these meetings are conducted over Zoom.
If this person requested to work from home, their employer would probably have to grant the request because their job could easily be done virtually.
What Can Dutch Businesses Expect When The Law Is In Place?
In a recent survey of 5,300 Dutch professionals in financial, business and government roles 20% of the respondents said that they would prefer to work fully remotely if given the choice.
A further 70% said they would prefer a combination of in-person and remote work, while only 10% said they wanted to go back to the office full time.
From these numbers, we can assume that Dutch businesses that don’t already have remote or hybrid policies in place will probably see large numbers of WFH requests from their employees if the law is passed.
Can Dutch companies refuse an employee’s WFH request?
Dutch employers will be able to refuse an employee’s request to work from home if there’s a practical reason why their job can’t be done remotely.
It’s not yet clear exactly what the criteria for refusing a request will be, but they could include:
- When an employee needs specialised equipment or tools to do their work and it’s not reasonable for them to keep these at home
- When an employee’s role fundamentally requires them to interact with other employees, customers or members of the public in person
- When an employee needs immediate access to documents or information that can only be stored at the office
What If An employee worked remotely during the pandemic?
If an employee worked from home during the pandemic but has since returned to the workplace, it will likely be challenging for their employer to refuse a request to WFH under the new law.
Since the employee has already shown that they can perform their role remotely, employers will have a hard time demonstrating that they need to be in the office.
What about hybrid working arrangements?
While some roles can be done full remotely, others require at least some in-person work.
For example, think of a teacher who spends ten hours per week delivering classes to students.
Even though this part of their job needs to be done in person, other parts — like marking students’ work or planning lessons — could be done from home.
In this situation, employers will have to negotiate with their employees to determine the right balance of in-person and remote work for each particular case.
The Advantages Of The New Law For Dutch Businesses
The pandemic showed us that remote work is not only possible but comes with some advantages as well — for both employees and employers.
Here are some of the advantages that businesses in the Netherlands might see if the law passes:
Fewer people in the office mean that you don’t need as much space — and downsizing can represent significant savings.
The new law makes it clear that remote work is here to stay, which could give business leaders the push they need to let go of legacy office space that’s costing them money.
Clarity and structure around WFH policies
Each company will have to outline a policy that details the factors they’ll consider when deciding if someone has the right to work remotely.
This will allow them to formalise working arrangements that may have been in place unofficially since early 2020.
Improvements to employee productivity
Many employees report working more efficiently without the distractions of the office.
And while working from home doesn’t increase productivity for everyone, trusting your employees to make the right decision for them can help you to get the best work out of your team.
Lower staff turnover
A recent survey found that more than half of employees globally would leave their job if not offered some kind of post-pandemic flexibility in terms of how and when they work.
Since replacing employees is expensive and time-consuming, allowing those employees who want to work remotely to do so can be a big cost-saver.
Increase in international talent in the Netherlands
The appetite for remote working is by no means just a Dutch phenomenon.
More and more people are seeking work that gives them the flexibility they need for a healthy work-life balance.
This means that the Netherlands is likely to see an influx of international talent looking to benefit from the new law.
This could have huge results for businesses in terms of expanding their talent pools and giving them access to the top talent in a competitive market.
What This Means For The Rest Of Europe
Lawmakers in other EU countries will be watching closely as the new law comes into play, and we may see similar legislation in other countries as we move firmly into the future of work.
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