Europe takes steps to protect WFH – as Musk does the opposite

Elon Musk is causing consternation among his new employees. According to Bloomberg NewsTwitter’s new owner will cut about 3,700 jobs — about half of the company’s workforce.

Those who stay are also bracing for turmoil. Musk reportedly plans to remove the platform’s work-from-everywhere policy and mandate back to offices starting Monday.

The turnaround has rekindled calls for legal rights to work from home on both sides of the Atlantic.

Changing times

The new TNW Newsletter

Going to the heart of the European tech and startup scene

Musk’s suggested move would scrap a groundbreaking policy. In 2020, Twitter was one of the first tech companies to allow employees to work from home indefinitely.

TThe policy soon proved popular with staff. In an internal survey in June, nearly 70% of employees said they wanted to work from home at least three days a week.

Twitter gave them further guarantees this year. In March, the company repeated the promise to allow full-time remote work ‘forever’.

Musk, however, was an outspoken critic of the approach. In May, the world’s richest person demanded that SpaceX and Tesla employees spend at least 40 hours a week in the office.

A pro-Musk Twitter account, Whole Mars Blog, asked the entrepreneur what he would say to people who think work is an old-fashioned concept.

“They have to pretend they work elsewhere,” he replied.

Musk is far from alone in arguing for mandatory return to offices. Proponents of the switch argue that WFH has a negative impact on productivity, morale and communication. Still, steps are underway to take the decision out of your hands.

Legal rights

In Europe, many workers would not respond to Musk’s demands. a 2021 questionnaire of more than 10,000 office workers in eight European countries exposed to extreme negative feelings about ending WFH. The study discovered that most employees want mandatory work from offices illegal.

About 75% of respondents would support legislation that would make it illegal to work in an office.
About 75% of respondents would support legislation that would make it illegal to work in an office. Credit: Okta

Their hopes may not be in vain. While federal labor laws in the US do not yet include the right to flexible working, a number of countries in Europe are taking steps to protect it by law.

A recent EU report found that 10 states in the bloc have adopted new telecommuting regulations since the start of the pandemic. Among them is the Netherlands, which stands ready to legalize WFH.

In July the House of Representatives of the Dutch Parliament passed legislation that would establish working from home as a legal right. If the new rules are passed by the Senate, employers will be forced to consider requests to work from homeas long as jobs allow.

Eurofound, an EU agency committed to improving living and working conditions.
Eurofound, an EU agency committed to improving living and working conditions, recently mapped the regulation of telecommuting across the bloc and in Norway. Credit: Eurofound

Spain has also introduced legal rights for teleworkers, while Italy has regulated “agile work” since 2017. Italian rules were rarely used until the COVID-19 outbreak, when the government used the scheme to fight the virus.

“It’s no surprise that, even after the ‘return to normalcy’, the majority of enlightened employers have chosen – or are sometimes forced by their employees – to view agile working as an essential part of their organization and a powerful tool. tool to attract talent”, says Michele Bignami, partner at the law firm deposit.

In Germany, meanwhile, a new law is being drafted that would enshrine the right to work remotely. The employer may only refuse for operational reasons.

Employees’ enthusiasm for mobile working is declining.

Markus Künzel, Munich head of employment law at Advant, says WFH adoption in Germany varies by company.

“The ability to work from anywhere, even from abroad, is an advantage that can satisfy existing employees as well as attract new professionals and highly qualified employees – including from abroad,” he said.

“At the same time, however, we see that employees’ enthusiasm for mobile working is declining in the current crisis period and that many employees would like to return to the office because of the increased costs at home.”

Indeed, not every step to protect remote working in Europe has been welcomed.

Mixed reactions

In the UK, a new Flexible work account has raised concerns with experts.

“Giving people the right to demand flexible working from their first day of work doesn’t make any difference when the realities of ways of working are often revealed much later,” said Molly Johnson-Jones, founder of the Flexa careerswho advised Depop, Esports Technologies and Carwow on flexible work policies.

“It doesn’t mean employers have to respond either, but it can create tensions between employees who make flexible work requests and companies who struggle to accommodate them.”

Johnson-Jones is particularly concerned about the impact this will have on employees with caring responsibilities or disabilities.

All employers have a duty of care.

Legal experts have emphasized that employees should provide a safe workplace for telecommuters. This can include a range of requirements, from providing safe equipment to complying with regulations, such as the GDPR.

All employers have a duty of care to provide their staff with a safe work environment, even if this is their home address Paul Kelly, Head of Employment Law Team at Blacks Lawyers.

That may not be a priority for Elon Musk, but other bosses are more receptive. Amid a global shortage of tech talent, legal protections on WFH could give European companies a rare advantage in the job market.


Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.