What are your rights around working from home in Sweden?

What are your rights around working from home in Sweden?
Many more of us are working from home than normal, but can you keep it that way and do you know your rights? Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT
As an employee in Sweden, you have the right to a safe working environment including when working from home. We've investigated what that means in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

Should I still be working from home?

If you can. Sweden has never made home-working obligatory during the pandemic, but since March the recommendation has been that everyone who can work from home should do so. That's still in place, although the Public Health Agency is currently reviewing whether any changes should be made to its recommendations ahead of autumn.

Can my boss make me return to the workplace?

In most cases, yes. You don't have a right to work from home in Sweden, and the recommendations from the Public Health Agency leave the decision up to individual employers.

People working in public transport, the care and medical sector, and schools have mostly been continuing to work from their usual workplace throughout the pandemic, and while some offices have announced plans for long-term home-working, others may encourage a return to the workplace after summer.

If you have a strong reason to work from home – for example if you belong to a risk group for Covid-19, or if you have symptoms consistent with the virus – you should speak to your employer and get your union involved if needed. It might help to provide a note from a doctor explaining that it's important for you to stay at home.

For others who don't want to return to the workplace during the pandemic, you can still try asking your employer and explaining your concerns.

Be aware that refusing to work from the workplace could be seen as refusal to work which can have serious consequences, so try to approach the issue proactively, presenting your manager with your proposed solutions. It may be possible for you to continue working from home, or you might reach a solution such as only working from the office for a limited number of hours per day or days per week.


Photo: Vidar Ruud/NTB scanpix/TT

What should I think about if I'm returning to the office?

There are a lot of measures that workplaces can take to support returning employees, which are especially useful to think about if you're in a management or HR position, but also as an employee in case these are measures you can suggest.

Your employer has a duty to ensure a safe working environment, and that means they have to investigate the risk of infection, address this risk by taking protective measures where necessary, and inform employees about this. So don't be afraid to ask about the measures they're taking if they ask you to return.

These could include staggered working hours to help employees avoid the rush hour, a rota system to ensure your workplace is at lower capacity than usual, re-arranging furniture to promote social distancing, and of course facilities for regular hand-washing.

Don't forget mental health. Your workplace may consider offering a way to submit questions or concerns anonymously, or let you know if you have access to any counselling or therapy services through your workplace insurance.

I've tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, or have previously had and recovered from Covid-19. Can I act as normal back at the office?

No, you should not change your behaviour significantly based on an antibody test and should continue to follow the recommendations in place. That includes staying at home if you're unwell, practising good hygiene, and keeping distance from others as much as possible.

Remember that scientists still don't know if catching the coronavirus gives you immunity to re-infection, and if so, how long this would last. There's also a margin of error in the tests (especially those carried out privately) and even though it is small, that's worth bearing in mind.

However, your workplace might use antibody results to make overall planning decisions. For example, some companies in Sweden have collaborated with testing companies to offer testing to employees, and anonymised data allows them to see what proportion of workers had antibodies, which could be used as a guide to help decide how to start allowing people to return to work.

Be aware that your employer can never force you to undergo medical tests or to share your results, unless this is agreed as part of your contract with the employer.


Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT 

My company is continuing to work from home. What are my rights?

There's a distinction here between companies that require you to work from home, and companies that allow it. 

If your company has made home-working mandatory, in Sweden this entitles you to a safe working environment, both physically and mentally. You should have already been made aware of this, but if not, it's not too late to raise it. 

Exactly what this means isn't defined by law. You might be entitled to borrow equipment from the office, given a budget to buy your own, or you may have to submit individual requests for things like an ergonomic chair, desk, lighting and keyboard. If you can't get the required level of ergonomic equipment at home, you might need more frequent breaks to avoid injury or eye strain, for example.

In terms of mental health, it could cover things like having defined working hours so that you can disconnect from work even if working from your home.

In other cases, your company might be allowing employees to return to the workplace but keeping home-working as an option. The best thing to do is to communicate clearly with your manager about what you think you need in order to carry out your work at home.

And don't forget to keep communications up around other topics too, so that you don't end up at a disadvantage due to working from home.

I have more questions. Who can I turn to?

Within your workplace, you could discuss any concerns with your line manager and/or HR department. If you aren't happy with the measures being put in place, talk to your colleagues – you may get better results if you raise concerns as a group.

If you're a member of a union, you should have access to support from them. The influence that your union has depends on whether your workplace officially recognises the union; if they do, then the union can raise these issues on behalf of employees, and if not, they can still give you advice about your rights and possible courses of action.

Even if your workplace doesn't have union recognition, check if you have a skyddsombud (work place environment representative). If you don't have one, the employees of the company can elect one.

This person will be 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.

You can also read the recommendations of the Public Health Agency for private individuals and workplaces regarding reducing the spread of the coronavirus, and read the Swedish Work Environment Agency's website. Prevent has a checklist for employers carrying out risk assessments.


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