In the contemporary business environment, enabling employees to work from home has come up as an indispensable requirement for companies to attract and retain expertise. The SEZ law had introduced regulations to permit Work From Home for employees of IT/ITeS SEZ units, but there was lack of clarity on certain functional aspects i.e. duration of approval, threshold of number of employees permitted to Work From Home, etc.
The Union Commerce Ministry came out with a notification allowing work from home for a maximum period of 1 year in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) unit, which can be extended to 50% of total employees including contractual employees. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Department of Commerce (SEZ Section) issued a notification and notified an insertion of a new rule 43A for Work From Home in Special Economic Zones Rules, 2006. There are 8 functional SEZs in India at the moment including — Santa Cruz (Maharashtra), Cochin (Kerala), Kandla and Surat (Gujarat), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), Falta (West Bengal) and Noida (Uttar Pradesh).
EXISTING GUIDELINES FOR WFH
During the rise in covid cases, then the Development Commissioner Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone -SEZ had issued guidelines regarding Work From Home time to time as no time limit are given under the Rule 43 of SEZ Rule 2006.
By the order dated 22nd March, 2022 with respect to Work From Home, the Authorities had decided to start working from office in a phased manner i.e 1st July, 2022 onwards the units should work from the office atleast with 50% capacity and from 1st September, 2022 with 100% capacity.
However, the Central Government have amended the SEZ Rules, 2006 known as SEZ (Third Amendment) Rules, 2022 which are effective from the date of publication in the Official Gazette i.e., from 14th July, 2022.
- Applicability The new rule provides work from home for a certain category of employees of a unit in SEZ:
- Employees of the Information Technology and Information Technology enabled Services SEZ units
- Employees, who are temporarily incapacitated
- Employees, who are travelling
- Employees, who are working offsite
- Procedure to Obtain Approval
- The SEZ Unit shall submit its proposal to work from home to the Development Commissioner through email or physical application, which shall contain the terms and conditions of work from home, including the date from which the permission to work from home shall be utilised and the details of the employees to be covered by such permission for work from home.
- The application shall be made at least 15 days in advance, except in case of the employees who are temporarily incapacitated or travelling, and if employees of the SEZ unit are already working from home, then the application must be submitted within 90 days of the date of issuance of the rule i.e 90 days from 14th July 2022.
- If the proposal complies with this rule, may grant the permission to the proposal of the Unit which shall be valid for a period of 1 year from the date of permission, extension can also be for not more than 1 year at a time.
- Number of Employees Allowed to WFH
- The proposal for work from home shall cover a maximum 50% of the full capacity of employees, including contractual employees of the Unit and the Unit shall maintain accurate attendance record for the entire period of permission for work from home and shall submit to the Development Commissioner, from time to time.
- The Development Commissioner may approve a higher number of employees to work from home for any bona-fide reason to be recorded in writing.
- Supplementary Conditions
With the prior permission of the Specified officer, the unit may provide to an employee laptop, computer, video projection system, other electronic equipment and secured connectivity (for virtual private network, virtual desktop infrastructure) to establish a connection between the employee and work related to the project of the unit. Such goods can be temporarily removed with prior permission to the Domestic Tariff Area without payment of duty or integrated goods and services tax subject to the following procedure, namely:
- the unit shall account for the goods removed temporarily
- the unit shall issue a certificate authorising the employee by name and giving the full specification, namely, serial number and model number and make of the equipment intended to be taken outside the processing area temporarily and a copy of the certificate shall be endorsed to the Specified Officer and acknowledgement received by the Unit, and
- the unit shall maintain a record of such certificate of authorisation issued for temporary removal of equipment.
When COVID-19 struck India back in 2020, all companies had opted to work from home model for its employees, as their health and safety was of topmost priority for the organizations. As time progressed, lot of companies transitioned to the hybrid model (partly WFH and partly coming to office) as many employees didn’t wish to return to office completely. The introduction of WFH in SEZs will be highly beneficial to IT firms such as TCS or Infosys, as these already have units in SEZs. Seeing the ongoing trend, companies like Mondelez and Tata Steel said they are hiring for permanent work-from-home roles, while many others including Maruti Suzuki and ITC are embracing a partial remote working approach where employees come to office only for a couple of days. WFH is also beneficial to employers’ lower costs, long hours put in by employees, improved retention, and even easier recruitment. It is not wrong to say that WFH is future as, a Forbes report stated that by 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least 5 days a month.