Flexible Employment Relations Create New Opportunities
An increasing number of employees want to work remotely and work at the time that is best suited for them, but the current Employment Contracts Act hinders that. Due to that, the state is planning to amend the Employment Contracts Act in relation to working time, remote work and temporary employment contracts. In the Chamber’s opinion, these amendments are positive and would increase flexibility of employment relations.
Minimum- maximum working time
One of the main amendment proposals concerns creating a new possibility for calculating working time – to work on the basis of minimum-maximum working hours. In the case of such contract, an employer calls an employee to perform their tasks if necessary, by giving advance notice of at least three calendar days, and an employee is obliged to accept work within the limits agreed on in the employment contract.
The proposal also establishes protective provisions. An employment contract with minimum and maximum working hours cannot be concluded for replacing employees whose employment contracts have been terminated due to economic reasons within last six months. Furthermore, if an employee works more than the minimum working hours agreed, the employee has the right to request amendment of the employment contract and establishing new minimum working hours. There is also a 15-hour range within the framework of which the working time may vary. For example, the parties may agree on 15-20 hours, but may not agree on 10-40 hours.
The maximum range could be more extensive or not exist at all in order to ensure more flexible possibilities. Although it would be good to use employees with the minimum-maximum working time more during busier times (discounts, summer), such contract is primarily meant for those who cannot work during other periods because of other obligations, e.g. students.
Employee with an independent competence for decisions
Daily rest time, breaks during the working day, weekly rest time, maximum weekly working time and other regulations would not be applicable for an employee with an independent competence for decisions. The exception enables to arrange work in a more flexible manner and allows better application of new working methods.
In case of an employee with an independent competence for decisions, the parties agree on the application of the exception in the employment contract, thus the employer cannot unilaterally establish which employees have an independent competence for decisions and the employee’s consent is necessary for applying the exception. According to the proposal, an employee can withdraw from such working method at any time by notifying two weeks in advance.
Using an independent employee may promote results-oriented working culture, where an employer expects results and is not focused on monitoring the attendance of employees. At the same time, it gives the employee free hands to choose when and how they work. Such working arrangement can be withdrawn by the employer if the employee is unable to perform as expected.
Temporary employment contract
It is recommended to allow concluding a temporary employment contract even without good reason and it should be possible to conclude such contract for up to three years, instead of the current five years. Furthermore, there is a plan to extend the procedure for extending the temporary employment contract.
This would be a positive change, because the change would decrease concluding short-term employment relations under the Law of Obligations. Furthermore, this would simplify situations where the employee as well the employer do not wish to conclude an employment contract without a term – the employer can offer work only temporarily and the employee wants to gain experience in order to move on to a new job.
Occupational safety exception for remote work
Furthermore, it is planned to introduce an exception for remote work to the requirements related to occupational health and safety if an employee works with a computer or any other tool while located outside the workplace. In such case, an employee can choose and create a working environment that is best suited for them.
The employer instructs the employee in terms of the risk factors related to the remote working environment and their potential influence on one’s health as well as measures to take to prevent and minimise damages to health. In the Chamber’s opinion, such change is important in order to prevent full employer liability if an employee has expressed his or her wish to work from home. At the same time, the Chamber emphasised that the exception should not be applicable only if an employee has chosen only remote work and never works in the office. That is, the exception should be applicable in cases if an employee wants to work remotely once a week.
Other amendments related to occupational safety
The plan is to amend other provisions regarding occupational health and safety. Natural persons providing services within the framework of a contract under the Law of Obligations should participate in the joint activities related to occupational health and safety if they work in the same workplace together with other employees of the employer. Furthermore, the health and safety of an employee who has been temporarily posted to Estonia from a third country (outside the EU) should be protected in the same manner as other employees.
Although the Chamber finds that ensuring occupational safety is necessary, the proposals are unclear. For example, there is no clear explanation for who takes the responsibility for a posted employee and in case of employment relations under the Law of Obligations, the proposal does not take into account the situations where a person is employed for a very short period of time.
The proposals regarding flexible employment relations have to do with the intention to develop a draft, which should be followed by more specific proposals (draft).
At the moment, the entry into force of the amendments is planned for the year 2020.