Remote work amendments to the Russian Labour Code adopted
The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the need for a legislative response to the widespread practice of transferring employees to work from home.
A new federal law on remote work was adopted on 8 December 2020. Titled “On amendments to the Labour Code of the Russian Federation regarding the regulation of remote work and temporary transfer of an employee to remote work on the initiative of the employer in exceptional cases” (the “Law“), it makes significant changes to the Russian Labour Code regarding the regulation of remote work.
The Law comes into force on 1 January 2021.
Three types of remote work
In addition to the existing format of permanent remote work, the Law provides for two new types of work outside the office:
- temporary remote work for a period of no more than six months (for example, an employee works from home for two months);
- combined remote work (for example, an employee works from home on Wednesdays and from the office on all other days).
Switching to any type of remote work requires an additional agreement to an employment contract.
At the same time, in exceptional cases (in particular, during an epidemic), an employer has the right to transfer an employee to remote work unilaterally, without the need to obtain the employee’s consent or enter into an additional agreement. To do this, the employer will need to adopt the relevant local act (in particular, an order) and familiarize the employee with it in a way reliably confirming the employee received the order. This could mean, for example, sending the document by e-mail with the employee’s reply confirming receipt.
Interaction with a remote employee
The Law explicitly provides that an employment contract with a remote employee can be entered into by exchanging electronic documents. However, a paper copy of the contract will become optional by default. The paper copy will only need to be provided if the employee requests it in writing.
As before, the employer’s enhanced qualified electronic signature is required when entering into, modifying and terminating electronic employment contracts (as well as student agreements and contracts on material liability). Employees have two options: an enhanced qualified electronic signature or an enhanced unqualified electronic signature.
However, in other cases, an electronic signature is not needed for exchange of documents and other messages, familiarization with local acts and other forms of interaction with the employee (contrary to the current regulation). The procedure for such interaction (for example, use of corporate mail) should be set forth in a local act or in an employment contract or an additional agreement thereto.
Additional grounds for dismissal of a remote employee
In addition to the general grounds under the Russian Labour Code, the Law introduces two additional grounds for dismissing a remote employee.
First, if the employee does not contact the employer for more than two consecutive days from the date of receipt of a request, without a valid reason.
Second, if the employee is unable to perform the duties under the same conditions when the job site changes. This ground will be applied in a situation where, for example, the employee is unable to do the job due to lack of free Internet access, the necessary hardware, etc., because the employee has moved to another area.
At the same time, interpreted literally, the Law does not allow other grounds for dismissing a remote employee that are not specified in the Russian Labour Code. Lawmakers argue that this change is necessary because employers often set discriminatory grounds for dismissing remote employees. Please note that the current version of the Russian Labour Code, which operates until 31 December 2020, allows employment contracts to stipulate other grounds for dismissal of remote employees, and the courts have acknowledged that such grounds were legal (for example, not following reporting procedures, inefficient work, etc.).
In addition to the changes discussed above, the Law also introduces other clarifications on the legal regulation of remote work. In particular, it provides general rules for interaction with the employer, remote employees’ working hours and rest, etc.
Since the Law comes into force on 1 January 2021, it is advisable for employers to draft local acts before that date. For example, employer policies regulating remote work and interaction with remote employees. Employers could also make any necessary amendments to existing employment contracts with those employees who will work (or continue to work) from home in the new year.