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Workers’ paradise? Portugal’s new teleworking law takes flak

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s new law on working from home makes the European Union country sound like a workers’ paradise.

Companies can’t attempt to contact their staff outside working hours. They must help staff pay for their home gas, electric and internet bills. Bosses are forbidden from using digital software to track what their teleworkers are doing.

There’s just one problem: the law might not work. Critics say the new rules are half-baked, short on detail and unfeasible. And they may even backfire by making companies reluctant to allow working from home at all.


“The law is badly written and doesn’t meet anybody’s needs,” says José Pedro Anacoreta, an employment attorney at PLMJ, one of Portugal’s main law firms. “It’s no good for anyone. … It doesn’t make any sense.”

In many places around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a prior trend toward the digitalization of work and more flexible work arrangements. Amid such a sudden and massive shift in the employment landscape, governments are scrambling to accommodate working from home in their employment laws. Those efforts are largely still in their infancy.

Many Europeans have stopped going into the office regularly since March last year to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

In Europe, unlike in the United States, worker protections are widely regarded as cherished entitlements. Laying off a staff member, for instance, can entail substantial severance pay.

Without a promised European Commission directive on how to legally frame the shift to more extensive working from home, governments’ legislative responses have been patchy and piecemeal.