There is scarcely an organisation whose members do not agree on how to act together, to whom they share information or for whom they are responsible. The more members an organisation has, the more precisely the rules by which the organisation operates must be in place.
In employment, the employee is subject to the management and control of the employer, which presupposes the establishment of a specific procedure, i.e. the determination of the rights and obligations of employees and employers. Consequently, the rules of work organisation are the rules of conduct of the parties to the employment relationship.
Clause 5 (1) 11) of the Employment Contracts Act imposes an obligation on the employer to inform the employee of the rules of work organisation by referring to them in a written document of the employment contract.
The Labour Inspectorate supervises the fulfilment of the notification obligation arising from law, but the employer does not have to coordinate it with the Labour Inspectorate.
Content of work organisation rules
The Employment Contracts Act does not specify the content of the rules of work organisation, leaving it up to the employer to decide and shape it according to their needs. However, subsection 47 (1) of the Employment Contracts Act states that the organisation of working time includes, in particular, the start and end of the working time and breaks during the working day. In addition, indirect references to the content of the rules on the organisation of work can be found in the current Civil Service Act, Chapter 7 of which deals with the organisation of the work of the public authority, its content and the principles for its establishment.
In general, work organisation refers in particular to the start and end time of work and breaks within working days, but also to the general principles of occupational and fire safety, the obligation to use personal protective gear, the procedure for issuing orders by the employer, etc. Depending on the specifics of the organisation, work organisation rules may contain vastly different regulations.
The content and scope of work organisation rules primarily depend on the size of the company, the field of activity and the needs of the parties to the employment relationship.
It is not necessary to rewrite the law in the rules of work organisation, but it must be a document that primarily meets the needs of the employer and the employee. The rules are the place where the employee receives the necessary information, what general principles are followed in this particular company, and provides the employer with an opportunity to specify how their company should operate and what norms they expect the employees to follow.
In general, the principle is that the larger the company, the more detailed the organisation of work is. In order for the parties to benefit substantially from the rules, they could include the following:
- procedures for entering and leaving the workplace;
- the start and end time of work;
- the conditions for announcing the working time schedule when implementing summarised working time; breaks included in the working time and meal breaks; the procedure for changing the holiday schedule;
- the procedure for formalising a business trip;
- the procedure for issuing orders by the employer;
- a list of breaches which may lead to the extraordinary cancellation of the employment contract;
- the procedure for warning the employee;
- the procedure for submission of the work report;
- the procedure for the transmission of important information related to the employer and the employee;
- restrictions on the use of work computer networks and e-mail;
- the purposes, conditions and deadlines for the processing of personal data;
- the principles of performance of teleworking;
- fire safety and occupational health requirements;
- the obligation to use protective clothing and equipment;
- the procedure for changing the rules of work organisation, etc.
Many of the aforementioned conditions were also included in the internal rules of procedure approved during the validity of the previous Employment Contracts Act. It was and still is common practice to establish the procedure for leaving and entering the premises of the place of work with the rules of work organisation and to appoint the positions responsible for this activity, the organisation of working hours and the procedure for the flow of information in the company.
Compared to the past, however, the procedure for warning employees and the list of acts in the event of which the employer considers the cancellation of the employment contract without prior notice to be justified are regulated in much more detail. These conditions are written into the rules of work organisation, primarily because the Disciplinary Liability of Employees Act no longer applies to persons working on the basis of an employment contract and the Act is concise regarding the warning of employees.
Employers who keep up with the times now consider it important to thoroughly regulate the conditions related to the use of the employer's computer network and the processing of personal data. Work organisation rules often regulate the viewing and use of employees' personal user accounts on social networks during working hours and on the employer's computer network, as well as writing blogs, participating in commenting environments and forums. In addition, the use of the e-mail provided by the employer for personal purposes, the maintenance of a corporate blog and other Internet traffic.
The employer should agree on the general principles of teleworking with the employee or describe the principles of teleworking in the rules of work organisation so as not to discuss the terms and conditions of teleworking each time before an employee commences teleworking.
Code of conduct in work organisation rules for supporting your employees
Work organisation rules serve as an addition to the Employment Contracts Act and the contract of employment, enabling your company to clarify and supplement its rules of conduct in employment relationships, so that it is clear to both parties how they should jointly conduct themselves. Ideally, work organisation rules should promote balanced employment relationships and include, in addition to orders by the employer, recommendations on how to improve co-operation and discuss the employee’s needs, as well as information on who to contact within the company with proposals or concerns.
Inspiration for well-phrased thoughts, including instructions on how to behave in difficult and delicate situations, for modernising your work organisation rules can be found in the code of conduct created collaboratively by social partners at toetav.ee.
Mandatory and availability of work organisation rules
The Employment Contracts Act talks about informing the employee about the rules of work organisation. For information purposes, it is also sufficient for the employment contract to indicate the location of the documents or the source from which the documents are available. For example, a reference to the fact that the work organisation document can be found on a computer network or is available in the staff lounge or on a notice board will suffice. In practice, work organisation rules are often kept with the company/institution's secretary, assistant manager or other employee involved in document management, or on a computer network for internal use.
In the eyes of the legislator, it is important that the employee knows which rules apply at their employer’s company and where and how they can be consulted. Establishing the rules of work organisation and informing employees is a legal obligation, and the established practice of each employer should reach the employee at least in a form that can be reproduced in writing. Pursuant to clause 5 (1) 11) and clause 28 (2) 7) of the Employment Contracts Act, the employer is required to inform the employee of the rules established by the employer for the organisation of work both at commencement of work and during employment.
The Employment Contracts Act does not make the establishment of work organisation rules dependent upon the number of employees. Every employee who joins an employer must also be informed of the rules of work organisation.
Establishing and communicating work organisation rules
The employer has the right to establish the rules of work organisation unilaterally, but nevertheless it is recommended to give the employees the opportunity to express their opinion and make proposals when drafting or amending the rules. It is always easier for employees to follow jointly drawn-up rules.
Upon the arrival of a new employee, after the establishment of work organisation rules, their employment contract shall include a reference to the location of the work organisation rules and introduce them to the work organisation rules already in force. The rules established by the employer are mandatory for the employee to comply with.
From the employer's point of view, it is important that, in the event of a dispute, they can prove that the work organisation rules of that specific organisation have been communicated to the employee.
Subsection 5 (2) of the Employment Contracts Act allows an employer to demand confirmation from an employee regarding the submission of information, including acquaintance with the rules of work organisation.
The confirmation can be, for example, an employee's signature – a handwritten or electronic digital signature.
If the employer has at least 30 employees and needs to change the current organisation of work or establish new rules, the employer must comply with the obligation to inform and consult arising from Chapter 5 of the Employees' Trustee Act. In this case, the employer must first inform the employees in writing of the wish to establish or change the rules and then enter into negotiations with the employees, i.e. consult on the content of the rules before establishing them.
If the parties to the employment contract have included the rules of work organisation in the terms and conditions of the employment contract, then such rules can be changed only by agreement of the parties pursuant to section 12 of the Employment Contracts Act, i.e. the employer must negotiate and reach an agreement with each employee whose employment contract they wish to change.
Prerequisite for the validity of work organisation rules
The rules of work organisation established by the employer must be in accordance with the applicable legal order. Clauses of the rules that are against the law are void from the beginning and are not enforceable.
For example, work organisation rules cannot stipulate that an employee must be available to the employer by telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is also not legal to oblige an employee to read the e-mails provided by the employer every day, including, for example, during holidays and illness, and to respond to letters within two days.
Such extreme rules are contrary to the principles of good faith and reasonableness and to the restrictions on working and rest time arising from the Employment Contracts Act.
It is also not legal to set so-called penalty rates (for example, ten euros for a five-minute delay, etc.) and to withhold fines from wages.
In such a situation, the employee shall have a claim for unpaid wages against the employer.
The employer can only supplement and specify the rights granted to the employee by law with its internal rules, not deprive them.
More favourable conditions than those in the Employment Contracts Act may be provided in the rules of work organisation. For example, an employee may be allowed to give less than 14 calendar days' notice to an employer of the use of extra scheduled leave.
The role of work organisation rules in labour disputes
The rules of work organisation are established by the employer, but they benefit both sides of the employment relationship. This is particularly clear in labour disputes. The rules in force at the employer can be relied upon both to warn the employee and for extraordinary cancellation of the employment contract.
The rules of work organisation can become important evidence in a labour dispute that is resolved in a labour dispute committee or in court. Reference to the employer's rules of work organisation is common in labour disputes, as the content of the rules of work organisation communicated to the employee is often important evidence of the employer's principles.
Work organisation rules are often used to prove a breach of an employee's job responsibilities, which gives the employer the right to extraordinary cancellation of an employment contract without prior notice to the employee. It must be borne in mind that infringements by an employee listed in the rules of organisation of work, which entitle the employer to extraordinary cancellation of the employment contract, cannot be regarded as prior warning. However, reference to work organisation rules also occurs in other disputes.
The practice of labour dispute resolution bodies in relation to the rules of work organisation
With regard to the requirements for keeping working time records and compensation for overtime work, the rules of work organisation have been an important factor in the practice of labour dispute resolution bodies.
The employee claimed compensation for overtime work because the employer paid for only eight hours per day during the employment relationship, but according to the employee, they worked continuously for nine hours because the employer did not allow them to take a break during the working day. According to the rules of work organisation, the employer had established working hours from 8 AM to 5 PM, during which the employee was provided with an hourly break for rest and meals between 12 AM and 3 PM. The employee had confirmed the acquaintance with the rules of work organisation with a signature. During the dispute, the employer evidenced by the statements of other employees that everyone was allowed to use the working day break in accordance with the rules of work organisation, but the employee who demanded compensation for overtime never used this break, nor did they inform the employer about obstacles to using the working day break. The labour dispute resolution body found that, since the employee was aware of their right to take a break from working day and had the opportunity to do so, their claim was unfounded and therefore rejected.
The parties argued whether the time for changing clothes could be considered as part of working time. The court explained that it is possible for an employer to avoid risks to the operation of production activities by setting time limits for employees to perform certain operations (e.g. change clothes) in work organisation rules, job descriptions or other documents.
Disputes have also arisen regarding the length of the summarised working time period, when the employee has claimed compensation for overtime at the end of each month, but according to the rules of work organisation, the employer has established a four-month calculation period. In those cases, the employees' claims are rejected because, if the employer can prove that the employee was aware of the rules of work organisation and thus also knew the principles governing the calculation of working time, they cannot claim that the employer should treat them differently from other employees.