Russia Started Legally Regulating Remote Work

And the laws make a lot of sense

Russia is usually cast in one of two lights by the Western media: a grand old monarchy producing the likes of Catherine the Great and stories like that of Anastasia. Or it’s a corrupt oligarchal post-communist economy where the rich get very rich and people disappear a lot. 

It seems that a third option may be coming to light, at least for remote work advocates: legal thinker. 

As of January 1st, 2021, new laws regulating remote work went into effect in Russia. Originally drafted on December 9th, 2020 (that link is in Russian), the laws are meant to protect remote workers throughout the country. 

After reading some of the legal insights (thanks Baker Mackenzie), it seems that the laws make a lot of sense. I’m not a lawyer, but approaching it from a common sense lens seems to resonate. 

If you don’t want to read legal briefs, here’s the gist of what went down:

Laws surrounding the categorization of remote work

Remote work can be categorized as one of three things in Russia:

  1. Permanent remote work

  2. Continuous temporary remote work (no more than 6 months)

  3. Periodic temporary (switching between remote and office - aka hybrid remote work)

It seems most companies, if they follow a Western style model, will end up in option 3. This creates interesting challenges from an identity perspective - will someone see themselves as a “remote worker” in the future if their legal status is ‘periodic temporary remote worker’? 

Rules about when / how an employer can make an employee work remote (on a temporary basis)

If employees are in an office environment, employers can only force them to go remote for safety or if following local laws. Employers do not have to get employee consent to go remote if it’s under one of those two umbrellas. 

An interesting addition: if remote work is required by safety or law and the nature of someone’s job is that they can’t work remotely, then the employer must still pay them at least two-thirds of their salary and the time is considered “downtime” according to Baker Mackenzie analysis. 

This is a poignant comment, particularly for me in Ontario, Canada, where we just entered a state of emergency with stay at home orders --- yet have no system in place to protect employees who can’t work remotely.

How companies can interact and manage their remote employees

By law, employers now have to use enhanced electronic signature for official documents: employment agreements (or addenda thereof), liability agreements, or apprentice / intern agreements. However, other forms of electronic signature are fine for other kinds of documentation, provided there is electronic verification of receipt. 

This one is also interesting for North America. You would not believe the number of documents that needed to be signed in person for witnessing issues. One of the more noir documents that require in person signing are wills - an unfortunate reality in a pandemic where millions of people could die. 

Working and rest hours for remote workers

The new laws around working hours for remote employees are interesting. 

First: any collective agreements or internal policies can be augmented to clearly include working hour expectations for remote workers. So if the office is 9-5, there’s a reasonable expectation that remote work will be 9-5 as well.

But the one that stuck out to me is that companies have to - in explicit policy - note the “conditions and procedures” for summoning a temporary remote employee to the office. This feels like an interesting extension of the temporary remote worker clause from up above, seeming to favour the right to work remotely in these situations. 

Finally, the company must also have a clearly stated policy for leave / vacations where remote workers are concerned. It can be the same as the rest of your policies, but it must be clearly stated. Temporary remote workers follow the general in-office policies.

Laws around necessary equipment and tools for remote workers

Another thorn in the side of Western remote workers - who pays for the laptop, internet, desk, and more? Google gave some subsidies and other companies followed suit, but there’s no consistent rule. In Russia, there now is.

Companies must provide remote employees with the “necessary equipment and other tools” required to perform their work duties. No word on how wide reaching this is (as in, yes a laptop… but what about a desk? Is an internet connection a “tool”?). But it’s a start. 

Further, employees can use their own devices with the consent of their employer. However, employers “must compensate employees for the use of such equipment and reimburse the costs incurred.” I like this take on BYOD. 

Additional grounds for firing remote workers

Remote workers are subject to the normal Russian Labor Laws (I don’t claim to know them), but these new laws add two additional ways to fire remote workers. 

1 - If a remote employee does not get in touch with their employer for more than 2 working days without valid reason or agreement. 

2 - If a remote worker moves to another area and cannot work under the same conditions.

These two worry me. They are so broad. The law says the 2 working day rule is a standard, but employers can set a longer period if they wish. The Baker Mackenzie analysis also doesn’t indicate what “contact” means - does it have to be two way? Can a boss just not open your email and suddenly you can be fired? What about read receipts on Slack or something? 

Further, the notion of being able to fire a remote worker if they move feels… antithetical. Workers seem to have protection under the “same conditions” part of this clause, but who defines those conditions? Is it just about an internet connection, or can a time zone change qualify as “not the same conditions” and get someone fired. These are tough questions that will have to be decided on the company level. But at the same time, I’m glad the government did not overly regulate. 

Given that the government requires additional disclosures and policies explicitly for remote workers, my hope is both these concerns will be clearly denoted company to company, so people can make their own decisions.

While the last section has me a bit concerned, overall it’s not bad, n’est pas

Thanks for reading! 

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