At the end of January 2021, the Austrian government, together with the social partners, i.e. the interest groups of employers and employees in Austria, agreed on new legal regulations for home office. Although there is no concrete draft for the law yet, the new regulations are to come into force as soon as possible.
First, there will be tax advantages for home office workers. Specifically, employees will in the future be able to deduct up to € 300 annually as income-related expenses for the purchase of work materials for their home offices (such as a desk or an office chair) as part of their employee tax assessment. At the same time, payments by employers as a subsidy for the costs of employees in the home office will be tax-free up to € 300 per year. Digital work equipment for the home office must be provided by the employer or a cost-reimbursement must be made for it. This will not be considered a taxable benefit for the employee.
In addition, there will also be clear regulations on questions of labour law, some of which have been controversial up to now. For example, home office, whether for all or only part of the working time, must still be agreed individually between the employer and the employee. Employees cannot take up home office of their own accord, but at the same time, employers cannot make home office compulsory. A home office agreement can be revoked by either party for a good cause with one month’s notice.
In addition, the possibility is to be created that in companies with a works council, home office can be agreed within the framework of a works agreement.
Finally, the employee protection provisions, as well as the regulations on working hours and employee liability, also apply to the full extent in the home office. In the event of damage to work equipment in the home office, the provisions of the Employee Liability Act are also extended to relatives of the employee or his pets, which offers improved protection for employees in the event of a claim for damages.
The parts of the Employee Protection Act and the Labour Inspection Act applicable to home offices also continue to apply unchanged. However, it is clarified that the labour inspectorate is not allowed access to private homes. Employers should therefore instruct their employees on how to set up their home office workplaces in compliance with the law before they start their home office. For this purpose, an information brochure will be prepared by the social partners and the Federation of Austrian Industries together with the Ministry of Labour.
Last but not least, a much-discussed controversial issue will finally be settled. The regulation on accident insurance in the home office, which was already introduced in connection with the first lockdown, is now to be incorporated into permanent law. Accordingly, employees are also insured against accidents in the home office, just as they are at their usual place of work. This also applies to accidents on the way between the home office and the workplace, from the home office to a doctor’s appointment or when taking children to kindergarten.