During the COVID-19 crisis, the Thai government asked employers to allow their employees to work from home to prevent infections in the workplace. Working from home subsequently became the norm for employees throughout the country. Now, however, we are in a different phase of the pandemic, and most employers have scrapped the work-from-home protocols. Does this mean work-from-home arrangements are now becoming a thing of the past?
Not so fast. The Thai parliament has recently passed the first reading of the so-called Work from Home Bill, which seeks to amend the country’s Labour Protection Act (LPA) to reflect the current situation. The legislative memorandum accompanying the bill states that the proposed amendments to the LPA will facilitate more flexible employment arrangements and solutions for employers and employees. Interestingly, the memorandum also indicates that the bill further aims to solve the notorious traffic congestion in Bangkok and other cities and reduce energy consumption.
In its current draft, the bill adds a single subsection to the LPA stating that “The employer and the employee may agree in the employment contract” that the employee is allowed “to bring work . . . to perform at home or at residence of the employee.” According to this draft provision, these work-from-home arrangements must be at least eight hours per week and are to be counted as the employee’s normal working time.
The phrase “may agree” suggests that the employer does not have to agree and thus there is no need to add this text to the LPA. However, the intention of the amendment is that the employer must agree if the employee wishes to work from home. During the public hearing on the bill, several parties voiced the concern about the ambiguity of the term “may agree.” It is still unclear what the final wording will be if the law is passed.
Many parties, including the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, do not agree with the bill, as they feel it may create more labor problems. The bill is brief, but it also opens up a lot of questions for employers on how to put this into practice. For example:
- Will there be exceptions for certain types of work, such as construction, factory operations, cleaning services, restaurants and hospitality services?
- How can employers monitor worker productivity?
- How should employers monitor overtime work?
- Can employees work from a coffee shop instead of their “home” or “residence”?
- Do employers have to pay for employees’ internet and electricity used to perform work?
- Can employees bring office equipment and supplies home?
- How can employers manage occupational safety?
The bill is under consideration by a subcommittee before going through the second reading in the parliament. Many observers expect that the bill will attract heated debate in the second and third readings before going to the Senate.