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Is working from home a legal right? Two Dutch lawmakers say it should be

June 23, 2022, 9:45 PM UTC

The ability to work from home after the pandemic has become a hotly debated topic in the U.S., with many office workers clamoring to hold on to their newfound flexibility and some CEOs remaining staunchly in favor of a return to offices. 

But other countries are taking steps to enshrine working from home as a permanent legal right.

Two lawmakers in the Netherlands are planning to submit a proposal to the Dutch Parliament to begin treating remote work as a legal right for citizens, before legislators leave for summer recess on July 3, Bloomberg reported.

The politicians spearheading the proposal—Steven van Weyenberg of the D-66 party and Senna Matoug from the Green Party—say that it is enjoying widespread support, and they hope it will pass soon.

“We have the green light for this new law thanks to the support we received from both employees and employers’ unions,” Van Weyenberg told Bloomberg. The Dutch Parliament will begin discussing the proposal next week, a spokesperson for Matoug’s Green Party told Fortune.

Most American office workers were in for a shock in March 2020 when COVID-19 disrupted the traditional nine-to-five basically overnight, and the debate today in the U.S. between working from home and returning to the office is becoming increasingly heated. 

A new survey by McKinsey found that 87% of workers presented with the option to work from home or in a hybrid format are willing to take it. But many employers are still convinced that returning to office is the way forward. 

Elon Musk recently made headlines by telling Tesla’s administrative staff that if they didn’t return to the office 40 hours a week, they were free to look for another job. And should his drawn-out takeover of social media company Twitter actually go through, Musk has said, only “exceptional” employees will be allowed to work from home.

The Dutch, on the other hand, have been refining work-from-home culture and habits since even before the pandemic.

In 2018, 14% of employed Dutch people worked remotely, according to data from Eurostat: the highest rate in Europe and well above the 5.2% average of EU citizens who worked from home. The Netherlands also ranked first in a 2019 survey by British internet service provider Plusnet that listed the best European countries to work remotely, based on factors including the percentage of people currently working remotely, internet quality, and cost of living.

During the pandemic, the Dutch government encouraged businesses to continue allowing employees to work from home. Since January 2022, the government has implemented a reimbursement program for businesses to repay employees who have incurred extra costs from working from home, such as the cost of setting up a home office.

And most Dutch workers may not be ready to let that newfound freedom go.

“We’ve definitely seen a big increase in remote work in the Netherlands,” Marcel Molenaar, country manager for the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg at recruitment company LinkedIn, told Fortune. 

“In order to remain competitive and improve employee happiness, three-quarters of employers say they’ve updated their flexible working policies—including more options to work remotely—since the pandemic, which is testament to the popularity of working from home,” Molenaar said.

Should the new proposal become law, it would make the Netherlands one of the first countries to require businesses by law to grant their employees the flexibility to choose whether to work from home or in the office, according to Bloomberg. But other countries have already put in place those kinds of protections.

In Spain, a September 2020 law protected people’s rights to work remotely if they wanted to, while a November 2021 law in Portugal attempted to regulate remote working by mandating that employers cannot contact employees outside of contracted working hours.

In countries like the U.S. or the U.K., no such protections have yet been approved on a national level, and employees have to negotiate remote work terms with their employer. In the U.K., for instance, employers can still decide to mandate a return to office for employees if they “have a good business reason for doing so,” according to the U.K. government’s official policy on flexible working.

There has even been pushback from U.K. businesses against rumored policy proposals to enshrine working from home as a legal right, with several employers warning last year that such an act would cause “chaos” in their offices.

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