Work from home (WFH) or Remote Working, telecommuting, telework in earlier times was only an option for the employees to bring in inclusivity. But in the present time of epidemic, this has become the norm and a standard work practice. A notable observation of the 'Future of Work Conference' 2016 was that significant flexibility of the modern workplace increases "efficiency and cost-savings" and provides the "choice" to work from home. Harvard Business Review reported an increase of 13.5% in productivity when the employees of Ctrip's call center were permitted to work remotely. Remote work can be considered the future of work, in a post-COVID-19 society, and is expected to be the 'new norm'. How should one view this? How does business come in terms of WFH? What value systems should this generate? Increasingly with public institutions like offices of Ministers, Courts, Universities, and such other institutions going online, what is the legal framework governing work? These are some pressing concerns that need to be addressed.
Legal framework on WFH in India
The labour regulations in India do not consider work from home as a norm or practice. At present, there is a lack of specific legislative framework enabling WFH. A significant legislation that allows for work from home in a limited context is the Maternity Benefit Act. Sec 5(5) of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 allows women employees to WFH, if the nature of work allows so. The Right to Disconnect Bill, 2018, a private Bill introduced in the Indian Parliament aiming at the welfare of the employee and the right to disconnect after office hours pushed for work-life balance. But interestingly, the Bill also does not consider the work from home situations.
In the policy framework, the Ministry of Labour drafted the 'National Policy on Home-Based Workers' during 1999-2000. However, this also focuses only on work based at home and not precisely, a 'work from home' scenario. Thus, it is evident that there is a regulatory gap in the work from home scenario. During this period of pandemic, there is an urgent need of framing an appropriate legislative framework.
Existing frameworks in major jurisdictions
To frame a model legal framework, it is significant to organise a comparative analysis of existing frameworks in major jurisdictions. The global snapshots of WFH are reviewed in this regard.
In the Netherlands, the Flexible Work Act allows the "employees with at least one year of service who work for a company of 10+ employees, the right to ask for a change, increase, or decrease in their working hours as well as the ability to work from another location".
Egypt enacted Labor Law No.12 in 2003, which enable companies to allow flexible work timings. The legal framework empowers the companies to define workplace in consultation with the employees according to the assigned responsibilities. This helps the companies to put in place policies and procedures for flexible working conditions.
Australia has enacted the Australian Fair Work Act 2009, which entitles the employees to request flexible work arrangements under certain conditions such as the employee being a parent, differentially abled, etc. In Italy, the new labor and employment legislation, Law no. 81/2017, has expanded the protection of self-employed workers and introduced a new flexible working framework called 'smart working'. It is an agreement between an employer and employee, which allows the employee to complete the work he or she is contracted to perform without the constraints of a fixed location or fixed working hours.
According to Quartz reports, in Japan, the government promotes work from home to increase productivity and to prepare for the influx of visitors for the 2020 summer. But with the spread of COVID-19, the government of Japan is keen on promoting WFH. On the same note, the recent death of an employee at Japan's largest advertising company allegedly due to overwork, and a grave childcare crisis, are putting more pressure for WFH to address Japan's corporate problems.
Proposing a model WFH legal framework for India
The key features of the WFH legislation that need to be incorporated in the Indian law include:
Value Systems of post-COVID Scenario
Michael Beer, Professor of Business Administration points out that, in the post COVID scenario, organisations should develop a trust- based culture and must have honest conversations that enables better work practice. This empowers the organization and the people involved.
Moreover, in a post COVID situation, the significance of open work culture should take predominance over a hard law approach. This means principle-based regulations such as broad value systems could be drawn-up by the industry associations. The labour regulators need to adopt a co-regulatory approach in adopting standards. This could focus on value building rather than on efficiency as a standard expected out of the workforce. Long-term value building for organizations requires more flexible matrix for appraisal and valuing the contribution of employees.
The WFH legal framework should be enacted solely as a response to COVID-19 and future pandemic situations. There should be a clear distinction between work life and personal life, the right to work, and the right to health that should get reflected in the WFH legal framework.
Dr. Suchithra Menon C, Assistant Professor, Sai University Chennai, and Faculty at Daksha Fellowship. Views are personal.
 https://qz.com/935374/japans-office-managers-are-experimenting-with-this radical-new-trend-called remoteworking/?mc_cid=5e759d9da2&mc_eid=24e1b48ddf