Last week, trade unions FNV, CNV and VMHP filed a complaint with the Inspectorate SZW about chemical company Nouryon. Against government advice, the company would require staff to come to the office three days a week, while they can work from home just fine.
Full time at the office
Some employers would prefer to have their staff back in the office full-time. Nouryon was one of them, but wants to adjust the policy after a conversation with the inspectorate, says a spokesperson for the inspectorate. No one at the company wants to respond. “My name is Hare,” said an employee.
Does it typify the taboo atmosphere of the subject? A tour of RTL Z shows that there are more companies with such a duty, although this is not explicit. Several complaints have also been received at FNV and the Inspectorate SZW. “We want to investigate it further,” said José Kager, spokesman for FNV.
In the end, many people think it’s fine to work partly in the office, the union knows. A recent poll by the union among more than 5000 employees shows that 70 percent would like to alternate with home.
RTL Z spoke to several employees who are obliged to go to the office by the boss. They only wanted to respond if they could remain anonymous and their company name was not mentioned.
Some say that an office duty is not comfortable. Apart from the risks, it is mainly a matter of trust. It feels like mistrust towards the staff, says one of them. “A kind of vanity, because people like to see rooms filled.”
More trust would be nice, says another: “Working from home does not mean that your company is standing still.”
Practice is unruly
The advice is: work at home, unless that is not possible. This is also officially communicated at a large company in the food sector. But the practice is more unruly, say employees. They have to show up at the office a day or two a week on the basis of a fixed schedule, because the management expects this. That leadership is there almost every day.
“Windows closed and four people in the room, it’s as if corona doesn’t exist,” says an employee of the company who calls the course intimidating.
The desire to come to the office is made clear time and again by email or verbally, says this employee. Working from home is only possible with permission.
A lot of people let it go. No point in whining, is the story. Some directors and managers appear to be so stubborn that working from home is simply not possible. Whatever it calls the cabinet.
“In the case of Nouryon, it mainly has to do with the American culture of the owner, an investment company,” says Monique Daamen, director of the process industry at FNV. “Working from home is also out of the question outside corona.”
Such a culture prevails at more companies, including Dutch ones, she knows. “It doesn’t fit into the vocabulary of some traditional companies: the employer is the boss, and the employee is the subordinate.” Working from home does not fit in with that, because then there is no control.
It is no different at the head office of a housing company with several hundred employees, says an employee. In principle, people work in the office every day, although for most it can be done from home. “It is not explicitly stated that it is not allowed, but the department managers are called to account.”
There are corona measures in the building. And they keep a distance from the desks, she says. But that is almost impossible in the canteen, because everyone takes a break almost at the same time. “At the moment there is someone at home every week who has been tested positive.”
Working from home is not a right
Working from home is the advice, but there is no legal right to do so, says Pascal Besselink, lawyer employment and pension law at DAS. “An employee can submit a request for adaptation of the workplace under the Flexible Working Act, but the employer may reject this,” he says.
There need not be compelling interests for rejection, but the employer must submit it. In principle, the employer determines where the work is done. The corona pandemic has not changed this so far, the lawyer says.
The government advice has not yet led to a right to work from home, the judge ruled.
But there is also such a thing as good employership: the employer must ensure a safe workplace. And that can be a ground to still enforce homework, as witnessed by this case. An employer who took too few measures against the corona virus and did not offer suitable home work, still had to pay his ‘work-refusing’ employee.
These kinds of matters will always be weighed up on a case-by-case basis, Besselink knows. And many employees and employers may not want it to come to that. But what if you don’t agree with the policy?
‘Don’t just walk around anymore’
“In any case, you shouldn’t just keep walking around with it,” says Kager. Consult with your colleagues or go to the union. “In the case of Nouryon, we collectively filed the complaint.” It puts a little more pressure on it.
You can only submit such a complaint to the Inspectorate SZW, says spokesperson Elizabeth Palandeng. This can be done anonymously via the website. “We cannot enforce, but we will enter into discussions with a company.” This often leads to improvement, says Palandeng.