Home / World News / Portugal bars companies from contacting employees off hours and requires other protections for remote work.

Portugal bars companies from contacting employees off hours and requires other protections for remote work.

ImageCommuters at a subway station in Lisbon last week.
Commuters at a subway station in Lisbon last week.Credit…Armando Franca/Associated Press

MADRID — Portugal is barring employers from contacting their staff outside their contracted working hours under a new law and from remotely monitoring their work, in one of the world’s boldest efforts to regulate the remote work that the pandemic forced on many in the industrialized world.

And, at a time when a surge in natural gas prices has sent electricity costs soaring, the law requires employers to pay part of the electricity and internet bills of staff who work from home.

The legislation, approved in Parliament on Friday and coming into effect this weekend, was drafted by Portugal’s Socialist-led government as an attempt to preserve work-life balance. Pandemic lockdowns kept uncountable millions of people working from home over the past two years, but Portugal is the rare country to enact laws seeking to formally protect workers’ off-clock hours and contain their work-related costs.

The legislation was presented by Portugal’s labor minister, Ana Mendes Godinho, as a way not only to protect domestic workers but to encourage more foreigners to select Portugal as a location for working remotely. Portugal has become a major destination for so-called digital nomads, in part because it is offering them special temporary resident visas to work from Portugal.

“We consider Portugal one of the best places in the world for these digital nomads and remote workers to choose to live in, we want to attract them to Portugal,” Ms. Godinho said at a conference in Lisbon this month.

Under the new law, employers can be fined for contacting staff outside regular hours except in an emergency situation. The law also requires companies to ensure that people who work remotely go to their workplace at least once every two months, to meet with their supervisors and fellow employees, in an effort to avert excessive isolation.

It also gives young parents the right to work from home without preliminary approval from their bosses, as long as their child is less than 8 years old.

Jada Medeam gives a dose of Covid vaccine to Carter Lazovik, 6, at Spruce Street School in Lower Manhattan on Friday.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

New York State will open 10 of its Covid-19 mass vaccination sites to children ages 5 to 11 who became newly eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as it seeks to expand access beyond a network of doctors’ offices, local health departments, health centers and pharmacies.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday that she had instructed the mass vaccination sites to acquire pediatric doses and prepare to administer them at those locations, adding the state aims to eventually offer the shots at all 13 of its vaccination sites in the days ahead.

“Since this 5- to 11-year-old age group became eligible, we have been encouraging parents to reach out to their pediatricians and local health providers to set up vaccine appointments, and now I’m directing our state mass vaccination sites to open their doors to the youngest and most recently eligible New Yorkers,” Governor Hochul said in a statement.

The selected sites include locations in three New York City boroughs as well as Yonkers, Glen Head and Stony Brook on Long Island, and the upstate cities of Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. The state encouraged parents and guardians to check its website for availability and to schedule appointments. Only the Stony Brook location was listing appointments for children in that age group on Saturday afternoon.

New York City set up clinics to bolster vaccinations in that age group in more than 200 schools on Monday, and met high demand in some neighborhoods, as part of a weeklong effort to bring a half-day vaccine clinic to each of its more than 1,000 schools. The federal government has been instructing parents and guardians to check with their health care providers and local pharmacies to get children vaccinated. Local health departments may also offer more information on specific sites.

A snow leopard at a zoo in San Diego, Calif.Credit…San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, via Associated Press

Three snow leopards died of complications related to Covid-19 at a zoo in Lincoln, Neb., despite efforts by staff to restore them to health after they tested positive for the virus about a month ago, zoo announcements said.

The Lincoln Children’s Zoo lamented the deaths of Ranney, Everest and Makalu in a Facebook post on its official page Friday evening, saying the mountain cats “were beloved by our entire community inside and outside of the zoo.”

“This loss is truly heartbreaking, and we are all grieving together,” the statement said.

The snow leopards were not the only animals to have contracted the virus at the facility. The Lincoln Children’s Zoo had published a statement on Oct. 13 disclosing that the snow leopards and Sumatran tigers had “tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.”

The zoo had collected nasal swab and fecal samples after animal keepers had “observed symptoms consistent with the virus in felids,” which can include respiratory illness. The zoo said it had been treating the snow leopards and tigers “with steroids and antibiotics to prevent secondary infection,” but its statement did not say whether its animals had been vaccinated.

This summer, zoo animals started receiving an experimental Covid vaccine made by Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company in New Jersey.

The Lincoln zoo’s tigers appeared to be pulling through, according to the latest statement. “Sumatran tigers, Axl and Kumar, have made a seemingly full recovery from the illness,” the zoo said.

Cases of coronavirus infections among zoo animals have surfaced throughout the U.S., including the first two spotted hyenas in the world found to have the virus, among other animals infected at the Denver Zoo. Other recently reported cases have included tigers in Omaha, Neb.; African lions, snow leopards, jaguars and a tiger in St. Louis and lions in Honolulu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that the risk of animals spreading Covid-19 to people is considered low, but people can also spread the virus to them, and cases among pets and animals in zoos have been documented around the world.

The Lincoln Children’s Zoo, conceived as a family destination where children could come close to animals, houses over 400 animals, including more than 40 endangered species, according to its website. Zoo officials could not be immediately reached on Saturday, but the organization’s statement said it has been following guidelines from the C.D.C. and the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians to protect its animals, the staff and the community.

Vials of the children’s version of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine can be stored unopened in regular refrigerators for up to 10 weeks.Credit…LM Otero/Associated Press

When the Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 last month, the agency noted that the pediatric version would be a bit different than the one for adults: a third the size, with a different buffer for added stability.

The news set off a wave of disinformation on social media about the new ingredient: Tris, or tromethamine.

The ingredient, however, has a time-tested track record of safety. It is “a commonly used buffer in a variety of other F.D.A.-approved vaccines and other biologics, including products for use in children,” the agency said in its statement announcing the authorization for Pfizer’s pediatric doses.

Such buffers “help maintain a vaccine’s pH (a measure of how acidic or alkaline a solution is) and stability,” according to the F.D.A., which says that the new formulation gives vaccine providers more flexibility in storage.

Pfizer’s pediatric dose also removes extra salt — sodium chloride and potassium chloride — according to Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, the American Medical Association’s liaison to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunization committee. Taken together with the “tris buffer,” she said in an A.M.A. interview, the changes “make the vaccine product more stable at regular refrigerator temperatures for longer periods of time. The kid version vials can be stored unopened in regular refrigerators for up to 10 weeks.”

The ingredient is not specific to Pfizer’s pediatric Covid vaccine doses. Kit Longley, a Pfizer spokesman, said in an email on Saturday that the compound was being used in adult doses as of this month, and that the manufacturing and ingredient list were otherwise unchanged. Tromethamine is also used in Moderna’s Covid vaccine.

A Covid-19 vaccine clinic at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, N.M., in May. New Mexico’s governor has expanded access for booster shots to all adults.Credit…Paul Ratje for The New York Times

New Mexico became the third state to expand eligibility for booster shots to all adults over the weekend as the state faces “a significant surge in new Covid-19 infections” with the continued spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, said an executive order issued by the governor.

The state has seen rising levels of infections and hospitalizations for weeks.

Colorado and California had moved this week to expand eligibility to all adults, going beyond federal government guidelines prioritizing the additional shot for older adults and population groups considered most at risk of exposure or severe illness.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued the order Friday, authorizing booster shots for New Mexico residents who are 18 and older and received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago or the second shot of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines more than six months ago.

“I strongly encourage every New Mexican to register for a booster today,” Governor Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

The governor also extended a mask-wearing requirement for indoor public spaces until at least Dec. 10, the statement said.

Although there has been debate among experts on whether Covid-19 vaccine boosters are widely needed, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration this week to authorize their third shot for people 18 and older. The F.D.A. has already authorized the Johnson & Johnson booster for all adults who were inoculated with the one-dose vaccine.

Under federal recommendations, those eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters are people who are 65 and older and adults 18 and older who live in long-term care settings, have certain underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness, or who work or live in high-risk settings. Those boosters would need to be administered at least six months after they had completed their vaccination series.

The states that have expanded eligibility have cited their own priorities for doing so.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis expressed concern about the pervasive spread of the coronavirus in a part of the country that has continued to see a spike in infections. In California, Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, the state’s public health director, said patients should be able “to self-determine their risk of exposure.” In New Mexico, Dr. David R. Scrase, acting secretary for the Department of Health, said “hospitals are well beyond capacity” in the latest wave of infections and disease.

“Providing boosters for adults will significantly increase levels of immunity protection across our state — and that’s essential for all of us,” Dr. Scrase said in a statement. He added that Covid “is incredibly opportunistic — and it’s our job to ensure that the virus has fewer and fewer opportunities to spread.”

Sherry McIntyre, a school nurse in western Oregon, was accused by parents of violating their children’s educational rights when she quarantined students on the football team.Credit…Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

When a junior high school student in western Oregon tested positive for the coronavirus last month, Sherry McIntyre, a school nurse, quarantined two dozen of the student’s football teammates. The players had spent time together in the locker room unmasked, and, according to local guidelines, they could not return to school for at least 10 days.

Some parents took the news poorly. They told Ms. McIntyre that she should lose her nursing license or accused her of violating their children’s educational rights. Another nurse in the district faced similar ire when she quarantined the volleyball team. This fall, after facing repeated hostility from parents, they started locking their office doors.

“They call us and tell us we’re ruining their children’s athletic career,” Ms. McIntyre said. “They see us as the enemy.”

Throughout the pandemic, schools have been flash points, the source of heated debates over the threat the virus poses and the best way to combat it. School nurses are on the front lines. They play a crucial role in keeping schools open and students safe but have found themselves under fire for enforcing public health rules that they did not make and cannot change.

Although 12- to 15-year-olds have been eligible for vaccination since May, uptake has been slow; just 48 percent of children in that age group have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of elementary school students, who became eligible for the shots just two weeks ago, remain unvaccinated.

Nurses say they are juggling more Covid cases and quarantines — and more furious parents — than ever. “I call myself a fireman and a dentist, because I feel like I’m putting out fires and pulling teeth all day long,” said Holly Giovi, a school nurse in Deer Park, N.Y.

They are, they say, exhausted and overwhelmed. Some say that, for the first time, they hate their jobs, while others are quitting, exacerbating a school nursing shortage that predated the pandemic.

“I loved being a school nurse before Covid,” Ms. McIntyre said. Last month, she resigned.

Taylor Hurles, the single mother of two young boys in the Bronx, was looking into programs for first-time home buyers when she lost her income in the pandemic.Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Single mothers — those who have never married — have made up a growing share of home buyers over the past three decades. But the pandemic threatens to dampen that progress, experts said.

Women have borne the brunt of the job losses over the last year and a half, while also shouldering most of the child-care responsibilities, Tara Siegel Bernard reports for The New York Times. At the same time, the housing market has grown highly competitive: Prices of single-family homes rose nearly 20 percent in August, the latest data available, from a year earlier, according to S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller’s National Home Price Index.

The pandemic, combined with the challenging market landscape, has eroded women’s confidence about their likelihood of becoming homeowners: Nearly 60 percent of single female heads of households who rent — those who never married, those who are separated or divorced, and widows — said they could not afford to buy and didn’t know if they ever would, according to a September study by Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage giant.

Single women accounted for 19 percent of home buyers from July 2020 through June 2021, up from 18 percent in the preceding year, according to an analysis from the National Association of Realtors released on Thursday. The slight increase is above prepandemic rates, but may partly be a result of the decline in the number of Americans getting married, said Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the Realtors group.

“Women have a lot of headwinds right now,” she said. “We know they are buying on a lower income even as prices have increased and inventory has decreased.”

Single women buying their first home, for example, had a median household income of $58,300 in 2020, compared with $69,300 for their male counterparts, the association found. Single women tend to be older when they buy, and spend less on their homes: The median age of first-time single female buyers was 34, compared with 31 for men, and women spent about 14 percent less.

Homeownership is often viewed as a sign of financial stability, with good reason. READ THE ARTICLE →

Company leaders, from left: Hayden Brown of Upwork, Sundar Pichai of Google, Tim Ryan of PwC and Andi Owen of MillerKnoll.

Across the country, employers are struggling with how, when and even if they will bring employees back to the office. In conversations with leaders at companies in a broad variety of industries — the people charged with making the ultimate call — the consensus was that there was no consensus.

C.E.O.s are struggling to balance rapidly shifting expectations with their own impulse to have the final word on how their companies run. They are eager to appear responsive to employees who are relishing their newfound autonomy, but reluctant to give up too much control. And they are constantly changing policies in response to worker demands, re-examining aspects of their business that they might not have tinkered with otherwise.

David Gelles, The New York Times’s Corner Office columnist, talked to several C.E.O.s to learn how they’re thinking about working from the office at this point in the pandemic.

  • In early October, PwC announced that remote work was a permanent option. Workers had two weeks to decide what they would do. Those who decide to change cities or remain remote may have their assignments changed, but are not at risk of being let go. “I believe what we announced will be commonplace for the mass employers in a matter of months,” said Tim Ryan, the U.S. chairman of PwC.

  • “What employees are saying they want in their work environment going forward is going to be a lot more important than a bunch of senior executives at the top of an organization determining what that will be,” said Andi Owen, the chief executive of MillerKnoll, the maker of the Aeron chair and other office furniture, which has yet to bring all of its own white-collar workers back full time.

  • As Google prepares for more employees to come back to the office next year, it is planning a makeover of many of its office spaces. Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google and its parent company, Alphabet, said that Google, where some workers have returned on a voluntary basis but most are still working remotely, remained productive (and profitable), but that going so long with limited in-person interactions with colleagues was getting old. “We are working on some borrowed time, in terms of working on memories of the relationships you have and the connections you have,” Mr. Pichai said. “It’s taking a toll.”

  • A full third of workers said last fall that they were putting in more hours than they had been before the pandemic, according to Pew. This was especially the case for people who used to commute. For many, the hours spent driving or taking public transportation had simply been subsumed into the workday. “I think people are working harder,” said Ms. Owen of MillerKnoll. The blurring of the lines between the workday and the rest of life has contributed to a growing sense of disaffection in the labor force, and may help explain the mass resignations that are upending the job market.

C.E.O.s are eager for employees to return — and afraid of alienating those who have grown accustomed to working from home. READ THE FULL ARTICLE →

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