On 18 July 2019 a new Law introduced a set of amendments to the Labour Code. These are mainly aimed at extending guarantees for employees and at unifying regulation of an employment agreement and employment contract (a prevalent type of employment agreement). The amendments will come into force on 28 January 2020.
Below you may find a summary of the key changes to the Labour Code: Enhanced Regulation of Remote Work, Outstaffing Features, Gender Equality, and Privileges to Loyal Employees.
The Labour Code will directly regulate employment relations with remote employees. Remote work means work outside the employer’s location using information and communication technologies. Remote employees will be subject to the general rules of the Labour Code, including those on working hours and rest time, leave, etc. The innovation is convenient for both parties to the agreement: the employer does not need to arrange a workplace, and the employee is provided with all social and labour guarantees. The new format for remote work may be applied in relations with any specialists who can transfer the results of their work via the Internet (software engineers, journalists, translators, designers, lawyers, etc.).
To date, permanent remote work is possible only by concluding an employment agreement with an employee who is an outworker – meaning employees performing work where they reside or in other premises away from the employer’s office. Unlike outworkers, the new regulation of remote work will allow:
- a remote employee to work anywhere, i.e. there is no need to define a specific workplace;
- the parties to exchange applications, orders, notifications, internal regulations, additional agreements and other documents in electronic form (at the same time, certain types of documents will need to be sent the employee by mail);
- for the employer to undertake minimum obligations in ensuring labour safety for remote employees.
A mandatory requirement is that the employment agreement must be signed in the personal presence of the employee. The employment agreement must contain general mandatory terms, as well as some additional conditions, in particular, an indication that the work is remote, conditions for exchanging documents, ways and frequency of working contacts with the employee, other conditions.
The law is silent on whether remote work may be carried out outside Belarus. According to the position of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, employment relations arising on the territory of Belarus (including employment relations with conditions on distance work) are also carried out on its territory. The Ministry justifies its position by the fact that protection of the employee’s labour rights may be ensured by Belarusian law only on the territory of Belarus. Remote work has already been a reality for many companies for a long time, and legal recognition of this form of employment relations brings about the certainty and flexibility expected by business.
Extension of contract with loyal employees
There are changes in the rules for extension of employment contracts (a special category of fixed-term employment agreements): for an employee who does not breach discipline, the employer should offer to extend the contract for the maximum term (i.e. within 5 years), and upon expiration of the maximum term the employer should offer to conclude a new contract for a period of at least 3 years. Extension for a shorter period is allowed only with the written consent of the employee.
Thus, the initiative to extend an employment contract with a diligent employee for a period shorter than the maximum possible should not come directly from the employer.
At the same time, either the employer or the employee may decide not to extend the contract upon its expiration.
Outstaffing features within temporary transfer of the employee
Until now, an employer was entitled to transfer employees to another job only in case of production need or downtime. The amendments to the Labour Code provide new opportunities in this regard – an employer may for other reasons transfer an employee to another job (either within one company or to another employer). The main condition is the written consent of the employee. The term of the transfer may not exceed 6 months in a calendar year.
New requirements determine the conditions for temporary transfer to another employer:
- agreement between employers is achieved by concluding a civil law contract;
- there is no new employment agreement, the current agreement continues to be valid, but the employee will have to follow the internal labour regulations and instructions of another employer;
- the main HR decisions are made by the employer who signed the employment agreement with the employee (e.g. remuneration, granting leave, claiming liability).
Changing working conditions at the initiative of the employer
An employer that plans to change the material working conditions of an employee will have to consider the following:
- minimum prior notice about change of material working conditions is 1 month (however, a Decree of the President with higher legal force is still valid: this sets a notice period of 7 calendar days);
- if an employee refuses to continue work in connection with establishing a part-time regime of less than half the normal working hours, the employer must provide the employee with severance pay of at least 1 average monthly salary (currently – at least two weeks average salary).
Certain changes are aimed at securing equal rights for women and men in labour relations:
- the ban on engaging women with children under 3 years old in overtime work, work during public holidays, days off, and sending them on business trips will be abolished. All this will be possible, but only with the written consent of the woman;
- a single parent with a child from 3 to 14 years old (or a disabled child to 18 years old) will be provided with certain guarantees, which today apply only to women. In particular, it will be impossible to dismiss this category of employees due to redundancy;
- at the request of the father, the employer will be required to provide him with unpaid leave of not more than 14 days (at the same time, the employer may provide for a different duration and/or the possibility to withhold salary). Leave must be granted at a time upon request of the father within 6 months after the child’s birth.
Part-time work: part-time employees will be allowed to work full time while on leave at their main place of work. Previously, in such situations part-time employees could work not more than half of the normal working time.
Material liability: fines for administrative offenses, levied on the employer, cannot be reimbursed by a guilty employee through bringing the employee to material liability (as is now possible in accordance with current court practice).
Formalisation of employment relations: each page of the employment agreement and its annexes must be numbered and signed by the parties (thus far, there is no such requirement).