Countries around the world are enacting remote work regulations. Will the US be next?

Experts explain why the US may have a harder time putting together a remote work framework.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

What do Spain, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands have in common? They were all knocked out of the World Cup running earlier than they hoped—and they’re among the more than 20 countries that have created laws regulating remote work since 2020.

As more countries grapple with who should be allowed to work remotely and how remote work should be managed, HR leaders might wonder if the US will look overseas for legislation inspiration. But workplace experts told HR Brew that isn’t likely to happen.

Rules abound. While remote work became necessary around the world in 2020, governments began to establish guidelines for who can request to work from home, what work–life boundaries need to exist, and how remote workers should be compensated for personal utilities.

For example:

  • Netherlands: The Flexible Working Act gives staff at companies with more than 10 employees the right to request to work at least partially remotely. All remote workers may be reimbursed €2 a day for costs related to working from home.
  • Ireland: Under the Right to Request Remote Work law, employees can negotiate telework arrangements and employers have 13 specific instances in which they can refuse a request.
  • Argentina: The Remote Work Bill requires Argentinian companies with remote employees to register with the country’s labor ministry. Disabled employees and caregivers have the right to negotiate their working hours.

Gallup estimates that over 70 million US workers can do their jobs from home. The US does not currently have laws guiding remote work arrangements, and there is no legislation in progress that would change that. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 is the closest law that the US has to remote work guidance. Signed by President Obama, it only covers federal workers and requires all agencies to have remote work guidelines and telework training for managers.

National legislation is unlikely. Much like calling soccer “football,” what works for other countries isn’t always realistic for the US. Federal remote work legislation is likely one of those things, experts told HR Brew.

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Bradford Bell, professor of strategic HR at Cornell, told us that while he sees the need for legislation, the US largely leaves labor decisions to employers and managers, rather than lawmakers. “They end up being based largely on the preference of the particular company or manager,” he explained. “We [in the US] don’t tend to legislate work issues as much as some of these other countries, particularly countries in Europe.”

He pointed to paid parental leave, which more than 120 countries guarantee their citizens, as an example of how the US lags behind when it comes to worker protections.

Ronald Miller, senior legal analyst at Wolters Kluwer, said that US courts have been hesitant to put most employment rules in the hands of the government. Every business is different, and they don’t want to make sweeping generalizations. “The courts declared that they are not a super HR agency,” he explained.

If legislation is passed, he said it’s more likely to be at the state or local level. “You’re more likely to see some progressive cities try to pass some such legislation, or maybe in some more progressive states like California,” he said.

Small steps. Bell said remote work protections could be baked into existing legislation, like the Americans with Disabilities Act or Family and Medical Leave Act, but he’s not optimistic. “I think it’s probably unlikely, just given the variety of different jobs, employers, geographies, all these things that are in our country that I think lead to a much more diverse workforce than in some of these other countries.”

He predicted that advocacy groups would be the driving force behind any potential legislation.

In the meantime, it’s one less compliance issue for HR leaders to worry about.

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