The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has issued the Special Economic Zones (Third Amendment) Rules, 2022 (“Amendment”) which provides new provisions in relation to work from home. Prior to the Amendment, the removal of assets from a Special Economic Zone (“SEZ”) such as laptops, video projection system(s) and documents required special permission from the development commissioner of the specific SEZ in which the unit is located in. The COVID -19 pandemic changed the way in which work forces were engaged by employers with many Companies shifting to remote working policies. Accordingly, several development commissioners of SEZs had published guidelines that governed an employee’s ability to work from home. In the interest of regularization and creating uniformity amongst the various guidelines issued, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had issued the Amendment.
The Amendment inserted a new Rule 43A which provides a new, unified framework for work from home abilities of employees of SEZ units. The said Rule covers the following employees (including contractual employees) within the IT/ITES, employees who are temporarily incapacitated, who are travelling and employees who are working offsite. As per the Amendment, a proposal to work from home was required to be made to the development commissioner, containing the terms and conditions of work from home, date from which the permission for work from home shall be utilized and the details of the employees to be covered by such permission for work from home, which the commissioner may also extend upon its satisfaction. Such proposal for work from home was covering up to 50% (Fifty percent) of its total employees (including contractual employees).
While the aforementioned requirements allow for better accounting of the goods and persons that are moving in and out of the SEZ, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry on December 09, 2022 vide notification no. GSR 868E (“New Notification”), wherein after receiving comments and feedback from stakeholders, the said Rule 43A has been substituted with a new rule wherein the erstwhile regime of seeking permissions from the development commissioner is no more required, an intimation to the same shall suffice. Other key aspects are as follows:
Work from home can be provided to upto 100% of all employees of the SEZ unit.
Work from home permitted upto December 31, 2023. However, in case a SEZ unit has permitted its employees for work from home or any place outside the SEZ, before commencement of the New Notification, an intimation to the development commissioner in this regard will be required, through email before January 31, 2023.
For units already availing work from home under earlier regime, intimation could be sent by email till January 31, 2023.
Units seeking work from home in future can email an intimation on or before the date of commencement of work from home.
Additionally, a hybrid mode of working for the IT/ITES sector has been allowed owing to the several representations received.
Further, there is no strict requirement for the SEZ units to submit the lists of employees who are allowed to follow work from home or from any place outside the SEZ, but shall maintain the lists of employees who had been permitted to work from home or from any place outside the SEZ and shall be submitted for verification whenever is required by the development commissioner.
The SEZ unit will provide assistance to employees, with duty-free goods, including laptop, desktop and other electronic items which the employee may need to work from home and/or in a hybrid mode, on a temporary basis, and as per the requirement of the entity and in accordance with the validity period of working from home flexibility granted to the employees.
The uniform nature of the New Notification ensures ease of doing business and will ensure regularization of work from home guidelines that have been issued by development commissioners of certain SEZs. Moreover, with the upcoming rise in the current Covid-19 cases across India, these further modifications to the earlier Amendment are definitely pacing towards advanced and acceptable working norms and flexibility of working, which in turn will motivate the employees to perform efficiently and effectively.