Come to a clear agreement on the terms of remote work

News article

There are no specific regulations on remote work in labour legislation, so it is important to come to an agreement about it. 

The popularity of remote work has increased and because of COVID-19 many companies have shifted to remote work extensively.  When working remotely, it is important that the terms and conditions of remote work have been clarified and agreed upon so that both agreeing parties are on the same page regarding the rules. There are no specific regulations on remote work in labour legislation, so it is important to come to an agreement about it.

When working remotely, the Contracts of Employment Act, Working Hours Act and Act on Labour Protection form the legal foundation of work, just as they do when working in the employer’s premises. As a rule, the employee’s status remains the same whether they are working remotely or in the employer’s premises. Unless otherwise agreed upon, the workload and goals of the work remain the same in both remote and office work.

Agreeing on remote work

Remote work always requires an agreement between employer and employee. In other words, the employee may not simply decide to work remotely, nor can the employer simply order an employee to work remotely, unless their contract of employment includes provisions on remote work.

It is not necessary for the agreement on remote work to be in writing but having a clear-cut agreement may prevent possible disagreements regarding remote work. Coming to a clear agreement between the employee and the employer is beneficial especially in situations where the remote work is regular and lasts for an extended period of time. To avoid ambiguities, one should always at least consider a written agreement.

The rules of remote work can be defined in a remote work agreement between the employer and each employee, or in general remote work rules that are in effect for the entire workplace. What needs to be agreed upon depends largely on the nature of the work, so there is a lot of case-by-case variation.

The remote work agreement or the remote work rules of the workplace may include provisions on such matters as the following:

  • Which work tasks can be conducted remotely.
  • How much remote work can be done.
  • Is the remote work agreement fixed-term or valid until further notice? How each party may terminate the remote work arrangement and the length of the related period of notice. (In principle, when the arrangement ends the employee returns to their regular workplace, unless otherwise agreed upon.)
  • The places where remote work may be conducted. (Is remote work limited to the employee’s home or can they also work from a holiday home or from abroad.)
  • How are remote workdays to be agreed on in practice (who must one notify and how long in advance).
  • Which working hours are adhered to and how is working time monitored (logging of hours). Hours when the employee is required to be available may also be agreed upon.
  • How work progress is monitored and must the employee report on their work to their supervisor.
  • Insurance practices. What is covered by the employer’s insurance policy in a remote work situation and are further policies needed.
  • Data security in remote work.

The collective agreement may also contain instructions and models for agreeing on remote work.

Working time in remote work

Because remote work falls within the domain of the Working Hours Act, as a rule, all normal regulations concerning working time also apply to remote work. What this means in practice is that working time monitoring is also required in remote work. The employer has a statutory obligation to monitor the safety and healthiness of working methods, and this obligation does not disappear in remote work.

Flexible working time may be used in remote work in the same way as when working in the employer’s premises, meaning that the employee may accrue or spend hours in their working time bank. Remote work may mean full days or partial days, e.g., working at the office in the morning and remotely in the afternoon.

The employee’s own responsibility for making working time arrangements, ensuring adequate breaks and preventing harmful stress becomes highlighted in remote work. When working remotely on a more regular and long-term basis, it is important to strive to separate working time from leisure time.

Occupational safety in remote work

Before remote work begins, one should find out what insurance policies the employer has in place for their employees. As remote work has become more common, there has been a lot of public discussion about how the employer’s statutory accident insurance policy may not cover all accidents that occur when the employee is working remotely.

As a rule, occupational accident insurance covers all accidents that occur in conjunction with work. In other words, the accident must occur specifically while the employee is performing a work task.

One should find out what insurance policies the employer has in place for their employees.

However, in remote work, accidents often occur in situations where the employee has left their workstation to get a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom or something else that does not strictly count as performing a work task. For this reason, an additional insurance policy, such as leisure time accident insurance, is needed in many cases.

As an example, take the case from the Finnish Workers’ Compensation Center where a remote worker rushed from the bathroom to their workstation to answer the phone and slipped on a carpet. The accident was not considered to have happened in conjunction with work. Because the accident was seen to have taken place during a break, the employee did not receive any compensation from the occupational accident insurance.

The author works as an employment lawyer at TEK.

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