Since Tuesday, November 19th, Austria entered a lockdown in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Part of the new lockdown measures included a recommendation to work from home.
While making the announcement, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that “people should work from home again wherever this is possible”.
How common is working from home?
Known in German as ‘home office’, working from home became increasingly common during the first coronavirus lockdown.
Usually, around ten percent of Austrian workplaces work from home. This increased to 40 percent during the first wave, Der Standard reports.
While it is difficult to tell whether the same percentage of people are now working from home, more and more workplaces are putting in place the technical capacities to allow their staff to work from home.
Is it illegal to require me to come into the office when I can work from home?
Although the Chancellor was sternly worded when making the announcement, in effect it is only a recommendation to work from home.
Given the difficulties accounting for the wide variety of workplaces and the demands they place on their workers, drafting a law which requires people to work from home is difficult.
In neighbouring Germany, labour authorities are planning on introducing a ‘right to work from home’ for around 24 days per year.
Currently, Austrian authorities are developing a working from home framework, however this is unlikely to be available until the Spring of 2021, reports Der Standard.
Working from home can be fun. See – who doesn't like ducks? Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash
Can my boss order me to work from home?
This depends on the work contract. If the contract allows for it, then the employer is well within his or her rights to send an employee to work from home “unilaterally”.
Given the relatively recent popularity of working from home – as well as its inapplicability in a number of industries – this clause will not be included in the majority of contracts.
As a result, whether or not an employee works from home all or part of the time is likely to depend on an agreement between the employee and the boss.
Austrian Labour Minister Christine Aschbacher has said that the government is generally reluctant to put in place too many hard and fast rules about working from home as it is important for both employers and employees to be flexible and to come to a consensus wherever possible.
What about taking breaks, sick days, maternity leave, etc?
The usual labour laws and protections continue to apply when working from home – including Austria’s Working Hours Act.
Statutory accident insurance has been extended to cover accidents while working from home during the first wave of the pandemic – and will continue to apply until March 2021.
Can I be paid more to work from home?
Again, if this is included in the contract then it can be, although in the majority of cases it will not have contractual weight.
Generally however employers must reimburse their employees for the costs incurred as part of their work.
Some costs will be easy to determine, i.e. the purchase of work-specific equipment, whereas other costs will be more difficult to quantify, i.e. electricity.
Therefore, employees should negotiate with their employer when deciding to work from home about who foots the bill for work-related costs.
What about using my own device or devices?
This is another grey area and has led in some cases to a number of problems – particularly with regard to data protection.
Generally speaking, an employer should provide the employee with all equipment necessary to work from home.
Even if employees are happy to use their own devices, this creates a number of issues – from assigning responsibility for usage (i.e. wear and tear), along with responsibility for damage.
There are as yet no set rules, but labour law experts encourage all employees to push their employers to be provided with all relevant equipment.
What do I tell the taxman?
As yet, there has been no concrete statement from either the government or Austrian tax authorities about whether expenses incurred while working from home can be tax deductible.
Tax experts however say that it is unlikely a temporary working from home set up could be deducted.
In order to be tax deductible, the ‘home workplace’ needs to be long-term rather than temporary.
This usually means that the work needs to take place in a separate room which is specifically set up for that purpose – i.e. a study or office – and which is not used privately.
“A ‘study’ in the tax sense is a professionally used room that has the character of a living room or office,” Thomas Neumann, Director at tax consultancy firm BDO, told Der Standard.
This means that the costs of the room – i.e. rental or purchase costs – are usually not tax deductible, unless they meet this description. Renting a separate space will however be deductible and easy to work out.
However, items purchased for professional activity – from printer cartridges to mobile phones, paper, pens and computers – can be deducted.
Telephone and internet costs can also be deducted, however given that this is also likely to be for personal use, the costs will be deductible on a percentage level – i.e. what percent of the phone or internet you use for work.
Finally, if the employer pays for any or all of the above, then it cannot be tax deductible in the employee’s tax return.