The government has notified a new rule which allows 50% of the overall staff of a company based out of a special economic zones (SEZ) to work from home for a maximum period of one year.

The Department of Commerce on Tuesday notified rule 43A for work from home in Special Economic Zones Rules, 2006. The notification was issued on demand from the industry for making a provision for a country-wide uniform work from home (WFH) policy across all special economic zones, the ministry says in a statement.

The commerce department had held several rounds of discussions with various stakeholders before firming up the notification.

The announcement comes after the Covid-19 pandemic forced several companies to offer work from home arrangement to their employees, especially those who work in the services sector, where most of the work can be done online.

The new rule provides work from home for a certain category of employees of a unit in SEZ, the government said.

These include employees of IT/ITeS SEZ units; employees who are temporarily incapacitated; employees who are travelling and who are working offsite.

As per the notification, work from home may be extended to maximum 50% of total employees including contractual employees of the unit. There is flexibility granted to development commissioner (DC) of SEZs to approve a higher number of employees (more than 50%) for any bona-fide reason to be recorded in writing, the commerce ministry says.

“Work from home is now allowed for a maximum period of one year. However, same may further be extended for a period of one year at a time by the DC on the request of units. In respect of SEZ units whose employees are already working from home, the notification has provided a transition period of 90 days to seek approval,” it adds.

SEZ units will provide equipment and secured connectivity for the purpose of work from home to perform authorised operations of the units and the permission to take out the equipment is co-terminus with the permission granted to an employee, the minister says.

The notification comes as a boon to the large number of IT/ITeS employees working in SEZs and addresses a long-pending demand of the industry, the government adds.

Earlier this month, India’s largest software services firm, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) said it gradually accelerated its return to office program in the first quarter, with about 20% of the workforce now working from office.

During the quarter, TCS resumed in-person meetings, and hosted several clients at its facilities. “We are bringing in more of our associates back to our development centres, and it is steadily increasing at all levels,” said N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, chief operating officer and executive director at TCS.

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