WHO PAYS FOR THE TOILET PAPER? The boss does if you work from home in Holland.
Dutch researchers worked out employers should top up workers’ pay by $2.40 per day to cover the out-of-pocket costs of everything workers may use in order to work from home. The Dutch government agrees.
The top up is meant to cover a lot more than toilet paper. It also includes: coffee and tea used in work hours, as well as gas, electricity and water, plus the depreciation costs of a desk and a chair—all the essentials that workers are never asked to pay for in the office.
“We have literally calculated down to how many teaspoons there are in an average household, so from there it’s not that difficult to establish the costs,” said Gabrielle Bettonville of family finances institution NIBUD, which is mainly funded by the government and researched the extra costs of remote working.
“The government has set a good example here,” said Jose Kager of FNV, the country’s largest labour union, which wants all home-workers to receive compensation along the lines laid out by NIBUD.
“We’re talking about structural, ongoing costs of working from home,” she added.
Much of Europe making changes
Many other countries in Europe are moving to adjust laws to make room for the new work-from-home realities. In Spain, for example, Garbiñe Ochoa gets to shut down her computer at night.
It’s an important and simple act—symbolic of a need to reinforce the division between work and family life.
“I’m trying to have a similar rhythm to what I have in the office,” said Ochoa, 39, an administrator at an art business in Madrid.
The “right to disconnect” predated the pandemic in much of Europe. It was first legislated in France in 2017. The measure limits how much employees can be made to answer phone calls and emails outside working hours.
The massive shift to remote work this year — and the recognition that office life may never resume as it was — has Spain, Greece, Ireland, Germany and other European countries considering all aspects of how they can preserve worker protections when people are working from home.
Draft legislation in Greece, for example, would ban the use of cameras that some employers have adopted to make sure their employees were actually putting in their hours; require employers to respect the private lives of remote workers; and create a remote-work division within the country’s labor compliance agency.
Germany plans to give employees the legal right to work from home. The proposed law aims to ensure workers have the option of working from home when possible, as well as to regulate home office work, such as limiting hours.
Germany’s labour minister said the law would also seek to set clearer boundaries for the increasingly blurred lines between personal life and work.
Policymakers are also discussing how to define overtime when people work flexible schedules at home.
Child care a big problem
But some workers and business owners say that the best efforts to regulate work-life balance still miss the reality that the pandemic upends everything about work and life, especially for parents with small children at home.
Ochoa said the hardest aspect of working from home for her and her husband was the sudden need to be home-school teachers to their 9- and 5-year-old boys, a challenge that work-life efforts cannot fully address.
“The problem comes from working with little kids at home,” she said. “Working from home with them means you are on all day long. Wake up and be with the kids. If I don’t want them watching TV all day long, I have to organize it and watch them. And I also have to work and have online meetings and cook their meals.”
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