Dealing with employment laws in the modern workplace

04 June 2019 5 min. read

The workplace for professionals is rapidly evolving. Many no longer work during the traditional 9 to 5 hours, collaborate with independents or outsourced colleagues, and conduct their work while commuting or at home. The rise of unconventional workplaces and co-working options have changed the nature of work, and as a result firms are expected to follow suit in the way they enable a balance between company endeavours and work / life. Archana Tewary, a partner at national law firm J. Sagar Associates, reflects on three developments in the modern workplace.

Given the difference in our work culture, employment laws in India are also trying to catch up to technological, sociological and value system changes in India. The increasing ability to stay connected with the workplace even if we are not physically at work, makes it challenging to apply and interpret employment laws to most companies.

Working hours and overtime

Across organisations, employees (particularly those working on assignments which require coordination across countries or continents) find themselves on calls or responding to emails round the clock. An employer should consider whether it is permissible to expect an employee to be available for work related matters 24*7. 

States in India have shops and establishments statutes which prescribe the maximum number of hours an employee can work in a day (for example, in Telangana maximum working hours prescribed are 8 hours/day and 48 hours/week). If employees work beyond the stipulated hours, they must be paid overtime pay at the prescribed rates. Employees can be considered to be at work, for the purposes of calculating the number working hours, even if the employee is not in the office but is participating on calls or responding to emails.

Dealing with employment laws in the modern workplace

Certain state governments have recognised the need to provide flexibility for companies in sectors like IT and Outsourcing which require employees to work on shifts 24*7. Despite such flexibility, the law is read and interpreted such that working hours of employees still have to comply with provisions on the maximum working hours prescribed and overtime pay. 

The challenge is recognising when an employee who is working from home or outside the office, becomes eligible for overtime pay. Often the employers do not have adequate mechanism for determining the actual number of hours worked by an employee. Hours worked beyond the tracking times of swiping in and out of office, are not taken into account. However, it is important for employers to have a mechanism to track the actual number of working hours to ensure compliance with applicable laws. 

Gig economy and contract employees

In many organisations, certain services are being provided by temporary staff or contract workers who are not permanent employees of the employer. Such rotating/temporary employees may provide a great deal of flexibility for employers to ensure adequate resources whenever required and efficient staffing. However, it should be ensured that such resources are not used to provide core functions, but functions which are capable of being outsourced. 

Companies, while seeking a certain amount of control on the work done and the work product created by such employees, should not impose restrictions which would typically be imposed on full-time employees. It should also be ensured that where such workers generate intellectual property, the company’s rights to such property are fully protected. 

Workplace relationships and policies

Employees in most organisations have informal interactions and are encouraged to socialise and build friendships with their colleagues. However, the absence of strict hierarchies at work can sometimes cause personal equations between employees to impact professional relationships. 

Employers often find themselves faced with claims of workplace harassment, where the claimant and accused have a personal relationship which has gone beyond the workplace and soured thereafter. In such matters, employers and the internal committees constituted to investigate such claims deal with complicated fact situations, varying personal accounts and lack of evidence to support either party to the allegation. 

In order to mitigate such instances, employers may consider having clear policies in place for employees to disclose any romantic relationships at work, and the end of such relationships, to the company’s human resources team. Additionally, policies supervising romantic relationships between people in the same teams, or where one person in the relationship reports to the other person can be put in place. 

Companies should also strictly enforce their workplace harassment prevention policies, and ensure that all employees are made aware of such policies. 

Typically, employment laws are interpreted for the benefit of employees, and employers must therefore, keep a close check on their compliances in order to avoid any repercussions under law or otherwise. 

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