The regulatory framework for working from home (WFH) is evolving, with an inclusive approach like never before. Due to the growing relevance of the concept of the WFH, the Union Ministry of Labor and Employment published in December 2020 a draft standing order model (MSO) for the service sector. These are legally binding documents, possibly in the near future, that explain the rules of conduct for employers and employees in industrial establishments with 300 or more workers.
The government has proposed to codify “homework” rules for the service sector. However, we must keep in mind that all these rules will have to be subject to the conditions of employment or to the employment contract between the staff and their employer. However, at present, regulatory standards for home work have not been officially prescribed. Already, several large IT companies and ITES have developed their own robust, agile and innovative WFH policies that meet both their specific business requirements as well as the reasonable expectations and safety of their employees. In fact, WFH policies are not new to the industry. Some large IT companies championed flexible work policies over a decade ago. The objectives were different then; it was discretionary and aimed primarily at having a positive impact on their business, improving their talent acquisition approaches and reducing their environmental footprint.
On the one hand, the FMH option has given phenomenal benefits, for example, it has paved the way for a positive shift in gender balance in favor of women. The constraints of transport and late work in the office have always affected their career development. This change is a godsend in disguise. On the other hand, the regulation of the WFH in its current phase offers more possibilities for an inclusive workforce both geographically and demographically.
Before these areas turn grayer during practice or implementation, the service industry must prepare to iron out any concerns by leveraging the appropriate channels and forums through their representatives – associations non-governmental professionals and advocacy groups such as NASSCOM and CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) among others. . In fact, NASSCOM has submitted its recommendations to the GoI regarding changes to many labor laws. Some of these recommendations call for flexibility in terms of opening hours, working hours and even exemption from registration obligations. While these recommendations can be seen as a regulatory benchmark, they are mostly written with a very small part of the service industry in mind.
In early 2019, Indian industries saw the introduction of four labor codes. These codes aim to regulate working conditions for all sectors of activity. While these laws do not explicitly specify occupational safety rules for home workplaces, organizations need to proactively put in place some basic measures.
Any Ministry of Labor WFH regulations should address the following:
1. Hours of work. This should be regulated according to the employment schedule, in the same way that minimum wages are decided in each state. The nature of the job is a key factor to consider when determining the hours of work for any organization.
2. Allow employers to store and submit all legal documentation online. For the moment, the majority states have not implemented it. All registers, declarations and licenses mandated by various labor welfare laws must be fully online, whether maintained by the employer or the labor services.
3. Exemptions for industry from certain provisions of various labor laws. While the WFH may make life easier for some employers, others find it more difficult than before. The government should take into account the nature of each business while regulating the terms of the WFH.
4. The Center could create a working group to work closely with states to ensure state laws are aligned. In addition, it is important to avoid double obligations and, to the extent possible, to harmonize laws between states.
Today, organizations are implicitly responsible for supporting and accommodating WFH options. They are expected to provide flexible working arrangements models that meet the specific needs of the employer and employees in a fair, reasonable and balanced manner. For organizations, it’s about effectively managing their business needs; and, evaluate and improve the productivity of their employees. For employees, it is about their flexibility and their autonomy in the performance of work; and, improving their experience and work-life balance.
Collaboration between the Government of India and industry to develop new guidelines for greater clarity is the need of the moment. WFH policies will need to be agile, inclusive in nature and constantly evolve according to the nature of the business, as only free spirits deliver better results.
Organizations should delve into and consider all aspects and may also consider engaging professional HR consulting services to develop the WFH framework. Above all, organizations must keep an eye on the changing regulatory landscape to stay in compliance.
(The donated article is attributed to Subramanyam S, President and CEO of AscentHR and created only for BW People)