Work at home is not as easy as it sounds, ministry says

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Work at home is not as easy as it sounds, ministry says

 
 
Korea's Labor Ministry has published guidelines defining "remote work" and how exactly companies should manage employees working from home.  
 
The Ministry of Employment and Labor on Wednesday released a work-from-home manual to reduce confusion surrounding the issue. As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, there's been a consensus developing that companies should adopt remote work policies. But there's no agreement on what these should be.
 
Accessible on the ministry's website, the 21-page manual discusses a variety of aspects regarding working from home. It includes answers to frequently asked questions about break time, productivity management and accidents.  
 
According to the manual, work from home is fundamentally based on a consensus between employee and the employer. If there are no grounds for remote work, the employer can reject an employee's request for it.  
 
Hours are the same as a regular workday, but depending on the situation, the company may allow for flexible working hours. The Labor Standards Act offers two options for calculating working hours for companies where hours are not consistent. Either the employer can decide on a fixed number, assuming the employee had worked those hours regardless of the actual time spent on labor, or it can fix a figure with the company's labor union.  
 
The manual makes it clear that an employee leaving a designated workspace without the employer’s permission or engaging in personal activities during work hours can violate employment and office regulations.  
 
The manual also states family emergencies, taking care of a sick family member, or simple tasks like taking a shower or answering phone calls should be tolerated. "The employer needs to be understanding of activities that are acceptable by social norms," the manual advised.  
 
Working at cafes instead of home is only allowed with prior permission or an agreement with employers. Changing the work location without the employer’s approval may violate office regulations.
 
One question submitted to the ministry asked whether it is unfair to shut down employee's connection to the company's server automatically if his or her computer mouse doesn't move for a certain period of time. The ministry said no, arguing that it could create a stressful working environment and have an impact on employee health and the organization's productivity as a whole.
 
The manual also states that tracking the employee’s location without consent is outlawed. Under Korean law, collecting location information without the subject's consent is prohibited. In order to obtain the location information of employees working from home, the company must obtain their consent regarding its purpose, length of time the information will be retained and the right to dissent. The employer cannot exert any pressure on the employee in this discussion.
 
Some companies cover transport expenses for their employees. The ministry said that it is not easy to say whether this should be paid, though it did note that the payment must be made if it is agreed to by contract, whether the employee commutes or not.  
 
Another issue was accidents and injuries while working at home. According to the manual, even if an accident takes place at home, work-related injuries or illnesses are considered occupational accidents.  
 
If the injury is the result of a personal activity unrelated to work, like tripping while going shopping at a neighborhood convenience store, it will not be counted as an occupational accident. But falling down in the middle of a trip to the toilet during office hours can be compensated as an occupational accident. This is because under Korea's labor law, accidents that happen while fulfilling basic needs during work hours are recognized as "occupational" as well.
 
BY JEONG HYE-JEONG   [lee.jeeyoung1@joongang.co.kr]
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