Govt. notifies new rules for WFH for SEZ

Background & Context

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the entire work from home (WFH) situation at a global level. The working world needed to adapt and do so at a rapid pace. India was no exception, and the IT/ITES sector was the first to jump on the WFH bandwagon. The scenario of working from home was not new to these companies and extending this to the entire workforce happened very quickly, despite several legal and compliance constraints that they had to work with.

Lawmakers also rose to the occasion and quickly cleared these hurdles.

  • The Telecom ministry eased the compliance requirements for work from home
  • The Commerce ministry eased the work from home requirement for Special Economic Zones (SEZs)
  • Labour and Home Ministries of both the Center and the State used the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to mandate that IT companies must allow their employees to work from home

The peak of the pandemic has long passed and it has now been more than 2 years since the time of the first lockdown in March 2019. The pandemic situation has now eased and a majority of the adult population in India are twice vaccinated. Normalcy is returning to offices and most organizations are slowly asking their employees to return to work as well. Now through a new notification, the Commerce Ministry seeks to allow employees of companies set up in SEZs to work from home for a year at a time.  The government accepted this as a natural transition and adapted accordingly.

The Work from Home (WFH) Notification

On 14th July 2022, the Central Government notified the Special Economic Zones (Third Amendment) Rules, 2022, which amended the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Rules, 2006 (ref. Commerce Ministry’s official press release). These Rules have added Rule 43A to the Special Economic Zones Rules, 2006, which allows a unit set up in a SEZ to have its employees, including contractual employees, work from home. The rule however limits the number of employees who can WFH to 50% of the total workforce at any given time. The said notification has also put forth a set of guidelines and rules for the SEZ units to follow. 

WFH Application Process

The key highlights of the new guidelines and rules are as follows:

  • Every IT/ITES company in an SEZ can apply for permission to have its employees (contractual and own) to work from home
  • The application can cover up to 50% of its total workforce
  • Such an application must be made to the jurisdiction Development Commissioner
  • The Application must be made 15 days in advance for future proposal of work from home and those already working from home, the application must be made within 90 days of the 14th of July 2022.

Application contents for WFH

In addition, the application must contain the following details:

  • Terms and conditions of work from home
  • Date from which the work from home will be utilised
  • Details of the employees to be covered by such permission of work from home.

Assets leaving the SEZ to facilitate WFH

A critical aspect of employees working from home are the necessary and required assets to perform their duties. Most companies facilitate and enable the setup of a work environment for WFH employees. Companies typically provide such employees with assets needed to fulfil the employment obligations like laptop, monitors, desk, chair, communication equipment and other miscellaneous assets. To do so, the company must ensure it does the following in respect of assets that leave the SEZ:

  • The Company shall account for the goods removed temporarily
  • The Company shall issue a Certificate, authorising the employee by name and giving full specification, namely serial number, model number and make of the equipment, intended to be taken outside the processing area temporarily and the copy of the Certificate shall be endorsed to the Specified Officer and acknowledgment received by the Company
  • The Company shall maintain a record of such Certificate of authorisation issued for temporary removal of equipment.

Open Questions

While the notification has been successful in providing considerable relief for the companies that are operating out of an SEZ, it does still leave many questions unanswered. For example:

  1. If an employee were to work on a hybrid model, will permission be needed for each day of work from home? Will asset entry and re-entry in such cases be a constant phenomenon?
  2. Can the company obtain generic permission by headcount as opposed to by name of the employee?
  3. Will permission be granted as a matter of right, or will it be at the discretion of the Development Commissioner? If so, what are the parameters to reject permission?
  4. Will the company be able to apply multiple times and if so, does each permission have a validity of one year?
  5. What is the penalty for non-compliance especially with regards to the 50% cap?

Moving Ahead

Overall, this is a step in the right direction and as is the case with most notifications, further clarity will emerge as the provisions are put into action. We are certain there shall be teething issues and we will need to see how the application and permission process evolves. IT/ITES companies located in SEZs will need to make haste and comply with the requirements that have been set forth as most of them have been allowing work from home or a hybrid model for the entire staff.

As a first step, all companies located in an SEZ with employees working from home have 90 days to apply for permission regarding those already working from home and need to comply immediately with the 50% requirement of work from office.

-Aditya Kamath,
Partner and Advocate

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B. Chandrashekar Shetty - Advocate

Mr. Chandrashekar Shetty is a Senior Labour Law Compliance Auditor at BCP Associates and has audited multiple client companies across India. He is also a member of our senior legal advisory practice. Previously he has worked as Deputy Controller, Manager-Industrial Relations and Industrial Relations Officer in KPTCL, Bangalore for more than 30 years. Prior to this, he has dealt with Legal, Personnel and IR matters including Wage Settlements, Grievance Machinery, Manpower Study and Social Security Compliances for about 10 years. He is a Faculty member of Labour Law, HRD Centre, KPTCL Bangalore.

Mr. Shetty holds a B.Com. and L.L.B. degree, Post-Graduate Diploma in Business Administration, Diploma in Public Relations from Bangalore University and PG Diploma in Industrial Relations & Personnel Management from Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. He is enrolled as Advocate in Karnataka Bar Council and is a Govt. Arbitrator of Chit Funds in Karnataka.

S Venugopal Rao

S Venugopal Rao is an experienced labour law and service matters expert and is a member of the senior advisory team at BCP Associates. Having joined the chambers of Mr. B C Prabhakar in 2012, he is knowledgeable and well versed in multiple employment and labour law topics.

S Venugopal Rao holds a Bachelor’s degree in Science from Karnataka University, Dharwar and Bachelor of Law from Bangalore University. He enrolled as advocate in Karantaka State Bar Council in 1976. He joined the chamber of Sri. Kolachalam Srinivasa Rao a leading civil advocate. After practicing for 6 years at Ballari, he joined Orient Paper Mills, Orissa (of G P Birla Group). He was designated as Manager (Law) under the Factories Act in 1995. In 1999, he joined Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills Rajahmundry as Manager Legal and was subsequently elevated as Dy. General Manager (Legal). As Factory Manager & Legal Head, he oversaw compliance of Factories Act and Rules there under towards safety, health and welfare, including compliance under Pollutions and Environmental laws and Explosives Act, etc. Additionally, he is well acquainted with Environment Management System ISO 14001: 2004, Occupations, Health and Safety Series 18000:1999. As Legal head in APPM he has briefed and appeared along with Senior Advocate before Appellate Authority constituted under Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act. He retired from the services of Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills in 2011.

As legal head he has handled important cases both in Labour and Civil and has experience in drafting and vetting Contracts, Agreements, Lease Agreement, Conveyance Deeds, , Affidavits and scrutiny of several legal and other documents, Preparing and settling Petitions, Appeals, Plaints, Written Statements, Rejoinders, Affidavits and Written Arguments etc. for submission/pleadings for various legal proceedings.

C K Devappa Gowda - Advocate

C.K. Devappa Gowda (CKD) is an Advocate and Labour Law expert. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science from the University of Mysore and a Degree in Bachelor of Law from Bengaluru respectively. He also holds a Diploma in Social Service Administration from the National Institute of Social Science, Bengaluru. After completing his studies, he had enrolled as a Advocate and initially practiced in the Civil Code attached to the office of BCP. He then worked as Personnel Officer in Chemicals and Textile Manufacturing Industries for 5 years. Thereafter took up employment in one of the largest Public Sector Bank. He has worked in different parts of the country and has extensive experience in the cross country IR domain. The significant part of his service was at corporate level overseeing and implementing HR policies and practices and management of IR. He has been a member of personnel committee of Indian Bank Association.

After retirement from service, Mr. Gowda has been working with Mr. BC Prabhakar’s firm for the last 12 years. He has expertise in all areas of people management, drafting of documents relating to service matter including the settlements under the ID Act. He has dealt with all employment laws including appearance before the Courts, Tribunal and Authorities under the different Labour Laws. Mr. Gowda is one of the senior Labour Law experts at BCP Associates.

Srijatha Ghosh - POSH Specialist & Advocate

Srijata Ghosh serves as external member on the Internal Committee of several Companies across various sectors. She handles all kinds of POSH related matters including investigations and inquiries. She provides Training on Sexual Harassment across all verticals for Managers and Senior Management, General Awareness for all employees and Internal Committee members on the legislation (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013). She also formulates Policies for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (“POSH”) and advises Companies on setting up of their Internal Committees. Srijata is involved in providing Legal Advisory services on POSH and other labour law matters for various clients.

In her previous experience, she has extensively dealt with End-to-End Contract Management, Due Diligence, POSH Compliances, Legal Advisory, etc. Srijata worked with Companies like Accenture India Private Limited, Quess Corp., Capgemini Business Services (India) Limited and Pramata Knowledge Solutions Private Limited. Srijata has handled varied legal issues including drafting, vetting and negotiation of contracts, drafting policies of various organizations. She has resolved issues relating to employment laws and has worked closely with the HR teams. She has provided legal advisory services to senior management. She was also associated with Kolkata High Court in counselling clients with legal matters such as Property, Due Diligence etc. Srijata has worked in an LPO Service Firm, Manthan Legal Services Private Limited for Legal Research, depositions, medical summaries, demand drafting etc.

Srijata completed her B.A.LL.B from M. S. Ramaiah College of Law, Bangalore University in 2009. Srijata is a member of the Karnataka Bar Council since 2010. She is also a member of the Gender Sensitivity Sub Committee of Karnataka Employer Association (KEA).

Caroline Lobo - POSH Specialist & Advocate

Caroline Lobo has been with BCP Associates for the past 2+ years. She has been handling matters and Inquiries related to the POSH Act including conducting inquiries and trainings/awareness programmes for Senior Management, employees as well as members of the Internal Committee on the POSH Legislation (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Act”) to address Workplace Harassment of Women. She is a member of the Internal Committee for many varied companies and organisations and has reviewed and scrutinized numerous hearings and inquiries on matters relating to sexual harassment at workplace.

She has also handled matters relating to employer-employee related Enquiries, wherein she has reviewed and conducted hearings and enquired into the matters and has guided the Internal Committee and provided guidance in providing recommendations to the management. She is also a Member of the Gender Sensitivity Sub-committee of Karnataka Employer Association (KEA).

Prior to joining BCP Associates, Caroline has has a wide range of experience in corporate, commercial and contract law, mergers and acquisition and has undertaken drafting, vetting, negotiating and finalizing legal and commercial transactions. She started her career in litigation then moved onto the Corporate sector. In the span of 13 years, she has worked at Chambers of Advocate Jayashree Murali, Krishnamurthy and Co. Legal Consultants, Colt Technology Services and Oracle India Pvt. Ltd. She always had a keen interest in Women and Child related issues. She has worked with Child Welfare Committee and NGOS’s. In addition, she has worked with Swasthi Health Resource and Centre, where she was the External member to the Internal Committee (IC). She worked closely with the committee in strategizing, planning, reviewing and implementing the assigned tasks, which included building material to raise awareness against sexual harassment at workplace. Further, she has been involved in conducting inquiries into matters related to sexual harassment at workplace.

Caroline earned her Law degree from University Law College, Bangalore, from where she graduated in the year 2005.

Manoj Kumar – Senior Associate

At BCP Associates, Manoj Kumar is involved in managing and conducting labour law compliance audits of principal employer and contractors. He is also involved in client co-ordination and conducting labour law training programs for vendors. He has conducted on-ground labour law audit for factories. Manoj also provides support in advising vendor clients on labour law queries. He completed B.A., LL.B. from BMS College of Law, Bangalore in 2016

Rashmitha Venkatachalam Das - POSH Specialist & Advocate

Rashmitha Venkatachalam Das is the External Member of the Internal Committee of several reputed Organizations across various sectors. Handling complex inquiries has been her forte and she is extremely passionate about it. She is actively involved in providing Training on Sexual Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 across all verticals for Managers and Senior Management, General Awareness for all employees and Internal Committee members. Rashmitha possesses capabilities in delivering sessions in Hindi and Kannada, in addition to English. She has formulated Policies for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (“POSH”), advised companies on setting up of their Committee. Rashmitha is involved in providing Legal Advisory services on POSH for various clients spread across diverse sectors. She has also been handling domestic enquiries for various clients. 

Rashmitha possesses experience both at Law Firms and Corporates in various capacities. She started her career at Krishnamurthy and Co, Legal Consultants and then moved on to work as an In- House Legal Counsel with Companies such as Biocon Limited, Columbia Asia Hospitals Private Limited, Adecco India Private Limited. With a long stint in the Corporate side, Rashmitha decided to pursue further education in Law with a specialization in Labour and Employment Laws. She has rich experience in drafting, vetting and negotiation of various types of contracts, providing legal opinions and has driven the team in formulating process and procedures and their implementation. She has drafted several employment related policies in Corporates. Rashmitha has been a part of various key committees in Organizations and assisted committees in scrutiny of documents pertaining to human organ transplant as well as clinical trials.

Rashmitha holds an LL.M. in Labour and Employment Laws from University Law College, Bangalore, which she completed in the year 2018 with Two Gold Medals. She is also a Rank Holder at the University. She has completed BA, LL.B. from Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies, Bangalore University in the year 2009. Rashmitha is a member of the Karnataka Bar Council since 2009 and also a member of the Gender Sensitivity Sub Committee of Karnataka Employer Association (KEA).

Manisha Vidyadhar – Senior Associate

At BCP Associates, Manisha Vidyadhar is involved in managing and conducting labour law compliance audits of principal employer and contractors. She is also involved in client co-ordination and conducting labour law training programs for vendors. She has conducted on-ground labour law audit for factories. Manisha also provides support in advising vendor clients on labour law queries.  She completed B.A., LL.B. from BMS College of Law, Bangalore in 2016.

Amrutha Ananth – Principal Associate

At BCP Associates, Amrutha is a part of the Legal Advisory practice, Legal Audit practice and Labour Code Alignment Programme (LCAP). Amrutha specialises in Labour and Employment Laws and compliance having advised some of India’s leading companies for some of their most complex labour law matters.

Amrutha has more than seven years of experience in labour and employment law and has conducted several audits for both, principal employer and contractor for various leading IT/ITES companies, manufacturing sectors like pharma, automobile, construction and start-ups.

She is actively involved in drafting and reviewing employment contracts, HR policies, Employee Handbook, show cause notice, etc. for various organizations spread across diverse sectors. As a part of the Labour Code Alignment Program, she assists companies in review and alignment of their existing wage and employment policy with the provisions of the Labour Codes.

Sunil Arya – Principle Associate

At BCP Associates, Sunil Arya is part of the labour and employment law advisory and HR Policy practice and is actively involved in drafting and reviewing of employment contracts, opinions, HR policies, employee handbook, show cause notice, etc. for various clients spread across diverse sectors. He conducts training on labour and employment laws. Sunil is also involved in labour law compliance audits of principal employer and contractors and has conducted on-ground labour law audit for factories. In addition, he is engaged in knowledge creation and management of the firm and keenly writes on developments in labour and employment laws.

Prior to joining BCP Associates, Sunil has 10 years of post-qualification experience in diversified portfolios of advisory, drafting, policy analysis and dispute in the domains of contracts, general civil matters, employment law, competition law and construction arbitration matters. Sunil started his career as a Law Researcher in Delhi High Court. He moved on to be part of regulatory analysis team of CIRC, a unit of CUTS International. In addition, Sunil has been part of legal team of Jindal India Thermal Power Limited. He has also taught competition law, tax law and investment law at VIPS, Delhi.

Sunil holds LL.M. from The Indian Law Institute, Delhi. He is First Rank Holder in his thesis. He completed B.A, L.L.B. (Hons.) from I.P. University, Delhi. He also holds First Rank in P.G. Diploma in Competition Policy and Laws from The National Law University, Delhi.

Chandrakala K A – Principle Associate

At BCP Associates, Chandrakala has 12+ years of experience in conducting and managing labour law compliance audits of principal employer and contractors. She is also involved in co-ordination with many clients. She has conducted on-ground labour law audit for factories. She also provides support in advising vendors on labour law queries. Chandrakala is actively involved in research and providing valuable inputs to the firm pertaining to updation in labour law audit function.

Chandrakala started her career in litigation in chamber of Sri. Ashok where she was involved in drafting, pleading and appearance before Karnataka High Courts and lower courts on the criminal side.

Chandrakala completed B.A in Arts from Kuvempu University, Shimoga in 2003 and LL.B. from Mangalore University in 2006.

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