COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered the reality of employment relationships all over the world. Due to the lockdowns since 2020 many companies moved to the new routine of remote work. Unlike in many other countries, instead of national wide lockdown, Russia implemented isolation measures locally and every region has different limitations. For example, Moscow government introduced a total lockdown from March 30, 2020 till May 31, 2020, which afterwards was followed by the system of self-isolation and remote work. Recently Moscow government extended the requirement of transfer 30% of employees to remote work introduced in October last year till January 21, 2021.
Following the new reality, government adopted the Law No. 407-FZ on Amendments to the Russian Labor Code Regarding the Regulation of Remote Work (“Law No. 407-FZ”), which came into force on January 1, 2021. Below we provided general description of the key amendments.
- No Need of Employee’s Consent for Temporary Transfer to Remote Work
Previously, in order to transfer employee to the remote work employer had to sign with the employee a supplementary agreement to the labor contract and inform him/her on the transfer at least two months prior to the date of transfer.
According to the new Art. 312.9 of the Russian Labor Code, in exceptional circumstances employer can unilaterally transfer employee to the remote work for a period of existence of the circumstances which caused such a transfer.
Art. 312.9 lists following exceptional circumstances:
- Threat of normal living conditions by some emergency situations such as catastrophes, accidents, fires, floods, earthquakes, epidemics, etc.;
- Decision of the state authority and(or) local government body requiring mandatory transfer of employees to remote work for any other reasons than those provided in first point.
Under aforementioned exceptional circumstances employer shall issue an order in order to transfer employee to remote work. Once the emergency situation has been resolved or authority’s decision has been expired the employer has to transfer employee back to the office.
- Employer Has to Take Care of Equipment and Expenses for The Remote Transfer
Prior to introduction of new regulations, Russian Labor Code provided that employer shall afford employee with the equipment and other means in the manner and within the time stipulated in the labor contract. In some cases where parties left this point unagreed, employer might legally refuse to provide employee with the equipment.
From January 1, 2021, Russian Labor Code stipulated that employer is obliged to provide the remote employees with the software and technical means required to commence the work remotely or to compensate employee’s expenses related to remote work (e.g., purchase/lease of the computers and softwires, additional internet traffic).
However, employees cannot inquire for reimbursement of any expenses related to remote work. Employer shall approve the purchase/lease of the software and(or) technical means. Amount and procedure of compensation still left to the provisions of labor contract or other company’s internal regulations.
- Most of The Documents No Longer Require an Electronic Signature
Prior to introduction of new regulations, electronic documents exchanged between an employee and a company could only be signed with enhanced qualified electronic signatures. This requirement hindered the process of the remote work at the beginning of the pandemic, as employees still rarely used these electronic signatures and employers would have to spend time and bear financial expenses in order to promptly provide employees with the enhanced qualified electronic signatures.
New Article 312.3 of the Russian Labor Code reduced the number of documents that shall be signed by an electronic signature to the following:
- Labor contract;
- Supplementary agreements;
- Material liability contract;
- Full-time or part-time apprenticeship contracts.
All other documents can be signed in any other way stipulated in the collective labor contract, local regulatory act or employment contract. For example, exchange of correspondence through the work e-mail account of employee.
- Employer Cannot Reduce Salary Due to The Transfer to Remote Work
On May 14, 2020, the Federal Service for Labor and Employment (“Rostrud”) issued the interpretations prohibiting the deduction of employees’ salary due to the remote work transfer.
New Article 312.5 of the Russian Labor Code ultimately affixed the aforementioned interpretation providing that transfer to the remote work itself cannot be a reason for reduction of employee’s salary.
- Additional Grounds for Termination of The Labor Contract
In addition to general provisions of the Russian Labor Code, new Article 312.8 foreseen two supplementary grounds of unilateral termination of the labor contract by employer.
1 Ground: Employee fails to liaise the employer with regard to work related matter for more than two consecutive working days from the date of receipt of the request from the employer.
2 Ground: Full-time employee changes his/her domicile, which entails his/her inability to perform the duties under the employment contract on the same terms.
Where employer sends a dismissal order via Internet, he/she also have within 3 working days from the date of order issue send the employee a certified paper copy.
Aforementioned amendments provided relevant guarantees to the remote employees, but also better clarified the limits of employer liability. In many cases company’s liability would depend on provisions of internal regulations. Therefore, companies should consider amendment of internal policies and labor contracts in order to ensure compliance with the new provisions.