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WORKING IN SWEDEN

Can my boss force me to return to the office when Sweden scraps home-working recommendation?

From September 29th, Sweden's national recommendation to work from home if possible will be lifted, along with most other pandemic restrictions. But can your boss force you back to the workplace?

Can my boss force me to return to the office when Sweden scraps home-working recommendation?
With home-working recommendations set to disappear from September 29th, office workers might either be dreading or longing for the return to the workplace. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

While many people have been going to work as usual throughout the pandemic, such as healthcare, retail and school staff, national public health recommendations to work from home if possible have been in place for over a year.

This guideline will be removed on September 29th, along with most other pandemic recommendations and the legal restrictions on restaurants and events. 

What this means in practice will depend on your employer, the work you do, and any other special circumstances. Several major companies have announced a permanent shift to optional home-working, while others may have cut down on office space during the pandemic. 

So can your boss force you to return to the workplace?

The answer is yes. An employer always has the right to decide where work should be carried out, and that includes the option to mandate office-working.

This was even true during the pandemic. The national recommendations and guidelines obliged employers to allow home-working if possible (including making reasonable adjustments to facilitate it) and to make other arrangements to reduce the risk of infection, such as staggered working times or increased distancing at the workplace, but it was ultimately up to the employer to decide whether working remotely was feasible.

But if your boss asks you to return to the workplace and you don’t want to, you have a few options.

“It should always be possible to agree with your employer on what applies to you,” union lawyer Sofie Malmkvist told the TT newswire. “Then, there are several collective agreements which include sections on distance work.”

If there is nothing specific in your collective agreement (kollektivavtal) or individual employment contract about your place of work, you can speak directly to your manager or HR department about what would work best for you.

Even if your employer is bringing in a company-wide policy, there may be room to make exceptions for a good reason. This could be anything from requesting more time or specific days in the office or at home to fit around childcare commitments, or explaining if you are at a higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19 and don’t feel safe commuting. Even if it’s just a matter of your personal preference, after a year of home-working you might find that workplaces formerly opposed to allowing remote work will now be more open to it, especially if it means retaining happy employees. 

If you are concerned that your employer isn’t taking reasonable precautions against Covid-19 at work, there are a few routes you could take. You could speak directly to your manager, especially if they have taken a proactive approach on Covid-19 or other work safety issues. Your employer should be able to explain the steps they have taken to ensure a safe working environment, and this now includes reducing the risk of infection.

If you are a member of a union, you can speak to your union representative. Even if your workplace doesn’t recognise a union, you can still get advice on the best course of action, but in that case the union itself will have less influence.

And if your workplace does not recognise your union, you might still have a skyddsombud (work place environment representative), and if you don’t, the employees of the company can elect one. A skyddsombud is responsible for representing employees on the subject of workplace safety and environment, including involvement in discussions and risk assessments about the work environment, requesting additional measures, and even asking for work to be paused if they judge there is a high risk to employee safety.

Another option to consider is speaking to your colleagues. If you have concerns, it’s likely others do too, and speaking up as a group often helps employees feel more secure and may make employers more inclined to listen.

At the other end of the scale, some workers might be keen to return to the workplace, for example if their home environment makes their work difficult to do. In that case, it’s unlikely your manager can force you to keep working remotely, according to Sofie Malmkvist.

“Just like before the pandemic, it depends on what you and the employer have agreed on. If you worked exclusively in the office before the pandemic, I have a hard time seeing that the employer can decide that you should work from home,” said the legal expert.

There may be exceptions, for example if your company has made a permanent switch to distance-working. 

A final thing to remember is that in Sweden, your employer is always responsible for your working environment, regardless of where that is. They need to take all reasonable steps to keep you safe and healthy, which might include providing office furniture if you work from home, or ensuring good ventilation if you return to the workplace.

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WORKING IN SWEDEN

CHECKLIST: Here’s what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

What authorities do you need to inform before you leave, are you liable to Swedish tax and how can you access your Swedish pension? Here's a checklist.

CHECKLIST: Here's what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

Tell the relevant authorities if you’re leaving for more than a year

If you’re planning on leaving Sweden for more than a year, you will have to let the authorities know. The main authorities in question are Skatteverket (the Tax Agency) and Försäkringskassan (the Social Insurance Agency).

Försäkringskassan

You have to tell Försäkringskassan when you leave so they can assess whether or not you still qualify for Swedish social insurance. As a general rule, you aren’t eligible for Swedish social insurance if you move away from Sweden, but there are exceptions, such as maternity or paternity benefits if you’re moving to another EU country.

This also applies to any family members who move with you – any over-18’s should send in their own documentation to Försäkingskassan about their move abroad. If you’re moving abroad with anyone under 18, you can include them in your own report to Försäkringskassan.

If both legal guardians are moving abroad together, both need to include any children in their application. If one legal guardian is moving abroad and the other is staying in Sweden, you need the guardian staying in Sweden to co-sign your application. If you are the sole legal guardian of any under-18’s travelling with you, you don’t need any documentation from the other parent.

You can register a move abroad with Försäkringskassan on the Mina sidor service on their website, here (log in with BankID).

Skatteverket

If you are moving abroad for a year or longer, you also need to tell the Tax Agency. This also applies if you were planning on moving abroad for less than a year but ended up staying for longer.

If you move to another Nordic country, you will also need to register your move with that country’s authorities if you will be there for six months or more. You’ll be deregistered from the Swedish population register the same day you become registered in another Nordic country’s register.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll lose your personnummer – you’ll still be able to use it if you ever move back to Sweden – but you will no longer be registered as resident in Sweden.

Similarly to Försäkringskassan, you will also need to report any children you are bringing with you, and both legal guardians must sign the form, whether or not both guardians are moving abroad or not.

In some cases, you may still be liable to pay tax in Sweden even if you live abroad – particularly if you are a Swedish citizen or have lived in Sweden for at least ten years. This could be due to owning or renting out property in Sweden, having family in Sweden, or owning a business in Sweden.

You can tell the tax agency of your plans to move abroad here.

Contact your a-kassa, if relevant

If you are member of a Swedish a-kassa (unemployment insurance), make sure you tell them that you’re leaving the country. As a general rule, you have unemployment insurance in the country you work in, so you will most likely have to cancel your a-kassa subscription.

If you are moving to another country with the a-kassa system, such as Denmark or Finland, it may pay to wait until you have joined a new a-kassa in that country before you cancel your membership in Sweden.

This is due to the fact, in some countries, you only qualify for benefits once you fulfil a membership and employment requirement. In Sweden and Denmark, you must have been a member for 12 months before you qualify. In Finland, the membership requirement is 26 weeks.

If you qualify for a-kassa in Sweden before you leave the country, you may be able to transfer your a-kassa membership period over to your new a-kassa abroad and qualify there straight away, but this usually only applies if your period of a-kassa membership is unbroken.

Check what applies in your new country before you cancel your membership in Sweden – your a-kassa should be able to help you with this.

Contact your union, if relevant

Similarly, if you are a member of a Swedish union or fackförbund, let them know you’re moving abroad.

If you’re moving to another Nordic country, they might be able to point you in the direction of the relevant union in that country, if you want to remain a member of a union in your new country.

If you’re moving to another EU country, you may be able to remain a member of your Swedish union as a foreign worker with the status utlandsvistelse.

If you chose to do this, you will usually pay a lower monthly fee than you do in Sweden, and they can still provide assistance with work related issues – although it may make more sense to join a local union in your field with more knowledge of the labout market.

If you don’t want to be a member of a union in your new country and don’t want to be a member of a Swedish union, you should contact your  union and ask them to cancel your membership.

Collect relevant documents regarding your Swedish pension

If you have worked in Sweden and paid tax for any length of time, you will have paid in to a Swedish pension. You retain this pension wherever you move, but you must apply for it yourself.

To do so, you will need to give details of when you lived and worked in Sweden, as well as providing copies of work contracts, if you have them. If you have these documents before you leave Sweden, make copies so that you can provide them when asked.

If you move to the EU/EES or Switzerland, you may also have the right to other, non-work based pensions, such as guarantee pension for low- or no-income earners, or the income pension complement (inkomstpensionstillägg).

Currently, you can receive your Swedish pension once you turn 62 – although there is a proposal in parliament due to raise pension age to 63 for those born after 1961 from 2023, so this may change.

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