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March 31, 2023

What should we make of teleworking?

  Compiled by myLIFE team me&myFAMILY December 17, 2019 130

In this day and age, digitalisation is allowing certain groups of professionals to work from anywhere, without necessarily having to set foot in an office. A computer, internet connection and mobile phone are the only tools they need. And in Luxembourg, the demand for teleworking doubled between 2010 and 2015. But if your employer offers you this option, should you really accept?

Teleworking, home office, mobile working… There are plenty of names for the phenomenon of people deciding to work off the premises of their employer, most frequently at home. It may not affect all areas and sectors equally, but the trend is growing, including in Luxembourg. So what is it really all about?

In the eyes of the law

Teleworking doesn’t refer to every situation where you might be required to work outside the office. Visiting a client, attending a multi-day conference abroad, or having a profession that keeps you travelling does not make you a teleworker. The same is true for those who may work the odd morning from home to look after a child with the flu.

Article 2 of the 21 February 2006 Convention on the legal regime governing teleworking defines the activity as a way of organising and/or carrying out work using, within the framework of an employment contract, information and communications technology in such a way that this work, which could also be done on the employer’s premises, is habitually done off them, usually at the employee’s home.

As you can see, this definition of teleworking creates three criteria:

  1. working with information and communications technology (ICT), which for most of us means a laptop and a smartphone
  2. doing work that could be done in the offices of your employer somewhere else, usually from home
  3. doing the first two on a regular basis.

The option to telework must appear in your employment contract or have been added to it, and you are free to decline this arrangement.

Bear in mind that working under the teleworking regime doesn’t mean you’re free from rules and regulations. On the contrary, teleworking is a strictly regulated activity. The option to telework must appear in your employment contract or have been added to it. Your employer cannot force you – you are free to decline this arrangement. Signing a teleworking agreement means that, in addition to other information required by law, the employment contract will have to specify the location from which teleworking is permitted and outline the role of the teleworker, the tasks they must complete (and any objectives they must meet), the days and times when the employer should be able to contact them, the department they work for, their supervisors and contact persons at the company, and an exact description of the equipment provided by the employer in order to do the telework, plus information about any insurance policy the employer has taken out in case it is lost or damaged.

Naturally, just because you work from home doesn’t mean you’re exempt from legal requirements, or from the conditions set by any collective bargaining agreement your sector may have. This includes rules about break times and overtime hours.

It not only improves the quality of personal and family life, but also helps increase a worker’s productivity and the quality of the work they do. Not to mention the benefit to society and the environment.

Those in favour

Ardent proponents of teleworking argue that it not only improves the quality of personal and family life, but also helps increase a worker’s productivity and the quality of the work they do. Not to mention the benefit to society and the environment.

For those able to do it, teleworking can mean greater job satisfaction. Working from home is comfortable and, importantly, it lets you cut out the stress and time lost on public transport. It’s a godsend when you consider how much a long commute can contribute to creating a disgruntled employee. Let alone the frustration of spending all that time in traffic only to find you’re late for work again.

Teleworking also eliminates the need to put on a suit and tie or heels, or spend precious minutes perfecting your hair and makeup. Less to do in the morning means more time to sleep! Or, if your schedule is flexible enough, it could even mean more time for sports or socialising later in the day.

Ideally, teleworking happens in a calm and quiet space, where you won’t continually be interrupted by colleagues trying to tell you about their night out or talking too loudly on the phone. Perfect if your job requires lots of concentration! Although some families also rely on teleworking to avoid having to arrange childcare for very small children or when someone is ill.

And ideally, teleworking also helps your employer save money on infrastructure and equipment. A company that pairs a shared office plan with a teleworking arrangement can reduce the amount of office space needed for the business. Less space means less money spent on rent, maintenance, and even things like furniture.

From a societal and environmental perspective, teleworking reduces traffic jams and air pollution by taking cars off the road. In Luxembourg, roads are blocked twice a day by the 200,000 cross-border commuters driving to and from work.

Those opposed

Teleworking naysayers assert that it decreases productivity, as employees aren’t in an ideal work environment when they’re at home. Alone in their own living room, they’re surrounded by too many distractions, and the lack of interaction with their colleagues can mean tasks aren’t brought smoothly to completion.

Some opponents say teleworking pushes people to work longer hours for which they aren’t compensated.

Others say teleworking pushes people to work longer hours for which they aren’t compensated. They start earlier because of the time saved on their commute, don’t take coffee breaks with their colleagues, and make due at lunch with a meagre sandwich or yesterday’s leftovers, hastily consumed in front of the computer.

For employers, it’s also more difficult to monitor the time worked by their employees when they’re at home. And some managers feel that teleworking can erode an otherwise healthy team spirit.

Finally, there are some legal restrictions that can dissuade employers from allowing their staff to telework. The law requires them to assume responsibility for the installation, maintenance and compliance of all of the necessary equipment. Companies have to add the expense of managing IT risk to their list of running costs. With their employees sometime teleworking on unsecured networks, employers are forced to invest more in cybersecurity and staff training on how to deal with this risk.

Taxing the cross-border worker

In Luxembourg, the issue of teleworking is further complicated by the fact that cross-border commuters make up a significant portion of the workforce. This requires some interaction between Luxembourg’s tax system and the systems in their various countries of residence.

In practice, the problem is the following: if these people work from home for more than a certain number of days, they will need to be taxed where they live rather than where their employer is established. The maximum number of days a person can telework is different for each border country:

  • 29 days per year in France
  • 24 days per year in Belgium (although this may soon change to 48)
  • 19 days per year in Germany.

Above these limits, taxation for a cross-border worker becomes more complex, as part of their income becomes taxable in their country of residence – not just for the days teleworked above the limit, but for the total number of days worked from that country. The application of a different tax rate can have a big impact on your net income, so make sure you’re well informed before making a decision.