As U.S. companies struggle to entice workers back to offices, the Dutch parliament approved legislation to establish home working as a legal right, setting the Netherlands up to be one of the first countries to enshrine such flexibility in law.
The legislation was adopted by the lower house of the Dutch parliament Tuesday, and will now head to the Senate for final approval.
Under current Dutch law, employers may reject workers’ requests to work from home without giving a reason. The new legislation forces employers to consider such requests and give a reason if denying them.
Companies in the U.S. are grappling with how to get white-collar employees back to the office. Some are trying to lure workers back with office perks, such as more couches or larger cafes. Others have adopted a harder line.
and SpaceX employees recently that they must be in the office at least 40 hours a week.
In an April survey of more than 32,000 American workers by ADP Research Institute, two-thirds of respondents said they would find a new job if required to return to the office full-time.
Working from home was popular in the Netherlands before the pandemic. In 2018, 14% of employed Dutch people worked remotely, the highest rate in the European Union, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency.
The country ranked No. 1 in a 2019 survey by Plusnet, a British broadband provider, of the best European countries for so-called digital nomads, based on factors such as Internet quality, cost of living and volume of co-working spaces.
This week’s bill is an amendment to the Netherland’s Flexible Working Act of 2015, which allowed employees to request changes in the number of hours they work, their working schedule and their place of work.
The law represents an “important step” for workers, Senna Maatoug of the GroenLinks party and a co-author of the bill said Tuesday. “It allows them to find a better work-life balance and reduce time spent on commuting.”
Steven van Weyenberg, a member of the D66 party and the bill’s co-author, said “For employers, this is also a good law. Because a happy employee is a happy employer.”
Some Dutch businesses said continuing to allow remote working would facilitate productivity and worker satisfaction.
ING Groep, the Dutch multinational bank, said it allowed employees in the Netherlands to work 50% of the time at home, excluding those at branches. The bank has roughly 15,000 employees in the Netherlands, and 57,000 world-wide.
“We combine the advantages of working in the office with the advantages of working from home,” ING spokesman, Aram Goudsmit, said, adding that the “well-being of our employees is our top priority.”
A spokesman for
NV, the brewing giant founded in Amsterdam, said its current hybrid model allows Netherlands-based employees to work from home two days a week. The spokesman declined to comment on whether the company would support Dutch employees in working from home more than two days a week if they requested.
The legislation was praised by the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions, which has 900,000 members from various professions.
“The Covid crisis has shown that remote work can work and that workers are happier and more productive if they alternate working from home and in the office. As a trade union, we urge companies to make collective agreements on remote working,” José Kager, a union spokeswoman, said.
During the pandemic, the Dutch government helped businesses to repay employees for additional costs of setting up home offices, offering reimbursements and tax exemptions.
The majority of Dutch workers want flexible working to become permanent. A recent poll of 5,300 Dutch employees in the financial, business and government sectors found that 70% wanted to vary between working at home and in the office. Only 10% wanted to return to full-time office work, and 20% said they only wanted to work from home.
Other European countries have implemented similar worker-protection laws in recent years, but none have explicitly stated that employees have a right to work at home.
Legislation in Spain offers some protection to workers who wish to work from home and prohibits companies from promoting office-based employees over remote workers based purely on their work location. In Portugal, a law passed last year bars employers from contacting employees outside of working hours.
No such national protections exist in the U.S. or the U.K., where workers must negotiate with employers if they wish to work from home.
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