Date: 22nd November 2021
New employment provisions in Greece and what they mean for companies
The new employment law has introduced extensive changes to Greece’s employment landscape, such as supporting flexible work hours, loosening overtime rules, and allowing teleworkers to disconnect. Partner Chara Daouti and Senior Associate Natalia Kalatzi outline what the changes mean for companies in Greece.
The new Greek employment law, adopted on 16 June 2021, has been described as “positively life-changing” by supporters and “old-fashioned” by opponents. How would you describe it?
CD: To have rules that are based on new ways of flexible employment is a breakthrough for Greece. It may be difficult to implement, and that is where we come in to help employers interpret the new law and make it easier day-to-day for their relationship with employees through clear policies etc. But, in principle, this is a breakthrough for Greek standards to have clear rules on digital cards and automatic registration of overtime and flexible setting off overtime towards other days off work. Even working from home was not previously provided for to its full extent, with the feeling that if you worked from home, you didn’t really work at all. So, the law is very helpful for encouraging companies to make some policies around these issues.
Provisions of the new employment law include allowing employees to opt for a longer working day in exchange for time off, establishing rules on remote working, and safeguards against sexual harassment in the workplace. To what extent is the law “growth-orientated and worker-friendly” or rolls back long-established workers’ rights in the name of flexibility and EU diktats that erode legal protections?
CD: The law tries to establish employee rights in a way that was never previously registered. For example, the right to strike was sometimes imposed by representatives on some employees who did not express themselves or vote against a strike. So, the new law creates clear rules and transparency on these issues.
I’m not sure the new law is favourable to employers as I hear them complaining about it (it creates a heavy administrative burden on companies) – for example, complaints about the implementation of registries imposing on the employers the obligation to enter manually a lot of information. But this has not yet been implemented, so we are not sure how it will play in practice. We see the same issue arising with employers’ heavy obligations to enter manually certain information on non-vaccinated employees on a weekly basis – with fines applying automatically in case employers fail to do so.
Regardless of the above, the new law makes employment more flexible and, at the same time, more transparent in terms of the relationship between employer and employees. As such, it might strengthen the case of an employee if they want to raise a claim against their employer i.e. employee will be able to digitally access their employment record to check when they worked and for how long. There will now be a record of everything.
There seems to be a lot of controversy over the impact of the law on collective work agreements, with opponents citing the stipulation that enterprises (including public utilities) continue to run with a third of security personnel when strikes are called. Given that Greece is a nation with a vibrant tradition of unions organising walkouts and protest rallies, what do companies still need to consider when it comes to strike action?
CD: The new law benefits employers who needed to have some assurances that their operation will continue in the event of a strike. Previously, certain disputes arose as unions announced a strike and employers would have to go to Court to ask for the strike to be deemed invalid and illegal and request that their operation continues.
NK: The law provides for policies against violence and harassment of those employees who do not want to participate in a strike, which is beneficial for certain categories of employees- especially minorities.
Perhaps the most contentious provision is the introduction of flexibility to the eight-hour working day, with employees allowed to work up to 10 hours on one day and fewer on another or take time off. To what extent does the law align Greece with the rest of Europe? (The increase in permitted working hours is according to EU standards, while the new law also gives tele-workers the right to disconnect outside of office hours as in France and Italy – for example, refuse any work on off-days or check emails)
CD: Greece is one of the first EU member states to vote for the right to disconnect, so we have pioneered that to some degree. The right to not have to respond on email after hours is important, not just from a practical perspective but because some employees were previously given a poor evaluation when they did not respond. In Greece, people work all the time and salaries are not that high, so there was a problem because employers did not pay overtime. The new law is therefore a very good measure and provides clarity in the relationship of employers with their employees.
Under the new law, employers are required to install and operate an electronic system for the monitoring of their employees’ working time with online interconnection with the ‘ERGANI II’ platform (the introduction of the digital work card is to fight undeclared work hours and overtime). How does the upgraded ERGANI platform reduce the administrative burden for companies?
NK: The upgraded platform has not yet been created so we haven’t seen it yet. There was a declaration form for overtime work so maybe this form will not have to be used by employers in the future.
CD: We know that under the new system some of the data will be uploaded automatically from the employer to ERGANI, so some online forms will not have to be prepared manually. And employees will have direct access to their data. We have this already for tax and social security information, but this will be the first time we have it for some employment information. This is important because we had cases in Greece where employers falsified timesheets and then used that as evidence in Court.
Under GDPR, employees can have direct access to this information, but they have to wait 30 days to access their file. So, in the interim, they were dependent on personal notes. Although the ERGANI II platform isn’t expected until the Spring of 2022, it will somehow have to communicate with company systems around payroll and management of employees, so it won’t be easy.
As explained above, however, other forms that employers are required to submit impose heavy administrative burdens to their business, such as Covid forms.
The changes in the new law are extensive and need to be closely reviewed by employers in Greece to ensure that corporate policies and practices comply with the new standards. In the short time since the new law was adopted, what have been the most significant compliance challenges that you are seeing?
CD: In early September, we had requests from several clients to prepare their policies for hiring, teleworking, prevention of bullying etc. However, companies generally haven’t had the time to really think about this yet. They’re doing things without policies for now. Of course, some multinationals already had some policies around these issues, so such policies must now be reviewed and reassessed under the new law.
Read also: Main Provisions of New Greek Employment Law
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