The rules for SEZ IT and ITeS workers who work from home are listed below.
The new “work from home” clause under the current SEZ Law of India has generated a lot of noise over the past several weeks. The new rule outlines the types of employees who may work from home or any other location outside the SEZ, subject to a cap of 50% of the total employee strength, including employees of IT and ITeS SEZ Units, employees who are temporarily disabled, employees who are travelling and employees who are working offsite.
- Vigorous advocacy by interested parties in the interest of preserving their income
- Facilitated by auxiliary service industry lobbying (transportation, facilities management, etc.)
- The Labor Department’s efforts to stop employee multiple employment practices
This change is a relief, especially given that each Development Commissioner around the country is imposing various rules for working from home and that the majority of organizations are in the midst of a phase of gradually returning to work using a hybrid model.
Having said that, the new regulation imposes administrative and procedural compliances that appear a little onerous Additionally, there were significant gaps in each Development Commissioner’s understanding of the initial approval procedure, and there were many questions about the procedures to be followed for new hires, the subsequent approval from the Jurisdictional Specified Officer for the removal of assets to employees working from home with the certification, etc.
In the lack of clear recommendations released by the Department of Commerce on August 12, 2022, offering an SOP on how to execute the new regulation, these disparities may have prevented the Government from balancing the concerns over work from home for SEZ Units and developers.
Only designated 50% of employees are permitted to work from home. Names of all workers (to whom the SEZ Unit provides the work from the home facility), subject to a maximum of 50%, must be supplied with the application to the Development Commissioner of the Jurisdictional SEZ Office. There is a risk of discrimination among the organization’s employees if work-from-home benefits are only offered to a select 50% of employees. If this happens, a severe scenario might develop.
Such a mandate will eliminate the freedom that organizations give to all of their workers who work remotely. Diverse viewpoints have evolved as a result of the problem being brought up by distinct entities in their capacities to the SEZ Offices around India.
The genuineness of the units’ worries has been acknowledged by several benevolent development commissioners in various states, who have stated that they would agree to accept the list of all employees as long as 50% of them are always WFH. Some Development Commissioners have outright refused such a request to accept a list of all employees, illustrating their differing degrees of understanding on this matter.
- Violation of requirement – The regulation also specifies a maximum percentage of workers who may work remotely, which is set at 50%. This would need 50% of the workforce to work from the office. The law is silent, however, on what would constitute a literal breach of condition that would prevent the Development Commissioner from renewing authorization if the stated limit fell below 50% owing to employees’ unexpected illnesses, employees’ travel, or for any other cause.
- Terms and Conditions – Before approving requests for work-from-home requests, the SEZ Office must obtain terms and conditions with the application. The rule does not provide a clear statement of the requirements for these terms and conditions. The intention seems to be to ensure that each company allowing its staff to engage in WFH has a set of rules that may vary from company to company but adhere to industry norms.
- Maintenance of Attendance – Organizations choosing to provide their workers with the option of working from home are obligated to keep correct attendance records throughout the whole time of approval. Again, it is unclear if the attendance would need to be sustained daily or on some other regular basis. If not for all, the SOP released by the Department of Commerce aimed to address many of the aforementioned issues, with a focus on offering benefits to all employees.
- The SOP has made it clear that the benefit can be extended to all workers with the condition that 50% of them must work from the office at any one time, as opposed to confining it to a specific 50% of employees.
- Given that many units currently operate at close to 90% work from home and may need enough time to gradually reduce this so that employees are not inconvenienced, and work is not impacted, the SOP expressly states that discretion has been vested with Development Commissioners for approving more than 50% of the employees to work from home and that such approval shall not be denied or revoked without giving due opportunity.
- The SOP has also endeavoured to make clear that there is no necessity to submit the attendance record but that it must be kept correctly and is subject to review by any official authorized by the Development Commissioner.
- The release of SOP is a positive step toward national uniformity in the approach taken by Development Commissioners. All SEZ ITeS organizations seeking to use a hybrid model of work from home for all of their workers would undoubtedly be relieved by this. Having stated that, organizations would need to consider doable solutions to make the work-from-home model feasible without having an impact on the business and, at the same time, without breaking the new law.
- Establishing a suitable hybrid work-from-home model for each employee while requiring a minimum of 50% attendance in the office at all times. Model to account for the possibility of future sick days, vacations, or other unforeseen circumstances
- Reviewing their work-from-home policy to ensure that it complies with the new rule’s criteria. Policies should take into account things like login times, reporting, VPN connections, handling of fixed computers, and the reimbursement of internet costs, among other things.
- Redefining the policy for new hires, who would be given the option to work from home right away.
- Strengthening the operating standards for digitizing records, including the bond register, asset register, and attendance register, among others. Organizations also need to pay attention to tracking the issue of legitimate identification cards with SEZ holograms.
These Companies to Enable Home-Based Work in a Hybrid Model
Indian IT service providers have said that they will adopt a hybrid work approach over time. Many businesses across all industries were progressively allowing workers to work from home and asking them to come into the office, but the recent increase of COVID-19 cases has compelled them to stick with the strategy. India reported 12,608 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 4,42,98,864. The death toll has risen to 5,27,206, according to the health ministry, with 72 additional fatalities in the past day.
Several IT behemoths, including Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, and HCL Technologies, have declared their long-term intention to stay with the hybrid model—a mix of both work from home and office—for the employees amid the increase in COVID-19 cases.
Even though India has loosened restrictions and life has returned to its usual rhythm before the outbreak, information technology businesses have found that employees are reluctant to work in the workplace full-time. Employees have the advantage in negotiating terms because employers are hesitant to press too hard for fear of losing workers in an area where there is a shortage of skills.
The leading IT services provider in India, TCS, has said that it will adopt a hybrid work paradigm in the long run. The IT behemoth said in a letter to its staff that it would adopt a hybrid working approach based on the 3Es: enable, embrace, and empower. Additionally, it announced plans to build up hot desks and occasional operating zones (OOZs) as agile workspaces throughout the world, enabling staff to collaborate with team members at any TCS location while working remotely.
According to the 25×25 model, which TCS will adhere to, no more than 25% of workers will work from an office at any given time, and they won’t spend more than 25% of their time there. Paytm, an online payment platform would let its employees work remotely from home or any other location in product, tech, and business jobs.
For product, tech, and business jobs, Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma tweeted, “We at Paytm empower you to work from home/anywhere.” Infosys has also made public its long-term strategy to gradually transition to a mixed form of employment.
According to the business, the model will be reviewed every three months and modified based on the needs of the clients, the regulatory landscape, and other factors. Only 5% of its senior executives visit the office, while 95% of the company’s employees work from home. According to HCL Technologies, 50% of its staff members are eligible for ongoing remote employment.
The business has previously said that its employees’ safety and welfare come first. As a consequence, it would stick to the hybrid approach and continue to offer its clients uninterrupted service. According to discussions on professional forums and job-related websites like LinkedIn, Naukri.com, and Glassdoor, many professionals who had relocated back to their hometowns or to remote areas or who had set up practical home offices preferred WFH more.
According to a C-Suite Survey by Colliers and Awfis, employees have resumed their jobs in 75 to 100% of the companies. This includes flexible work schedules in which staff members visit the office once or twice a week. The two-year leave of absence from work has become more popular as a result of the drop in COVID-19 cases.
Over 74% of businesses are investigating scattered offices as a way to transition from location-centric to people-centric workspaces. Employee freedom will become more accessible as productivity gains for organisations are increased. The telecom and consulting sectors, where this number varied from 75 to 100%, saw the highest percentage of people returning to work.
53% of occupiers preferred a portfolio plan that included both office time and work from home time, according to the C-Suite Survey. This result is important. Additionally, tenants desire a more flexible real estate portfolio. Today’s occupiers recognise that flexible work schedules and diverse workspaces are the new norms. Occupants regard flexible workspaces as the best option; the main goals are to support a work-life balance and provide employees autonomy.
A little over 54% of employees in the IT and ITES industries highly favoured dispersed workspaces, and over 49% of the occupiers are likely to use flex centres to support it.
Edited by Prakriti Arora