The coronavirus pandemic has pushed many businesses to close their offices and have employees work from home. Thanks to modern technology, we have the capability to work remotely, but the transition from office to home comes with a whole new set of both legal and practical issues that managers and business owners need to take into consideration.
Occupational Health and Safety Act
The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 establishes workplace standards for employers to provide to their employees. This does include home offices used by remote employees, but the US Department of Labor will not hold employers liable for their employees home office conditions nor will they conduct investigations into employee home offices. Despite this, it is still important for employers to record injuries and illnesses incurred by employees that are working remotely. Employers should also provide the platform on which the employee is expected to work from or establish uniform standards and expectations. Additionally, worker’s compensation applies to injuries sustained at a home office that may happen in the scope of employment.
Even when the employees are not working from the office anymore, it is important for employers to promote safe working environments. Liability for injuries can still be applied to employers for mishaps that may occur while the employee is on the clock.
Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act has a strict bar regarding the payment of employees for labor and overtime pay. Remote employee’s hours might be difficult to accurately monitor, especially when a telecommuting environment is not the norm for a business. Some things to consider when transitioning to a remote platform are:
Use accurate recording software for employee hours: There are a number of outlets through both the internet and even smartphone apps that both free and reliable at clocking and transmitting hours worked. Employees should all use a uniform platform as recommended by the company.
Create a written policy regarding hours: Establishing a new company-wide policy regarding the use of an above-mentioned time-clocking platform for remote workers will be effective for employee compliance.
Adopt a policy concerning overtime: Overtime hours are those worked by nonexempt-employees in excess of 40 hours per week. While working remote, it may be very easy to reach overtime hours. Adopting a policy requiring permission for overtime hours can be an effective tool to cut down on employees taking advantage of less monitoring. While under FLSA an employer will likely need to pay the overtime on an employee’s first infraction, successive instances may be contested under a disciplinary policy regarding unauthorized overtime.
Remote Working Policies
It is important for every company to have uniformly applied standards. Remote workers are no different than standard employees. Policies should be set in place to govern the actions of remote workers and establish standards that they need to follow. Remote workers should be held to the same expectations as in-office employees. They should be given the same opportunities and benefits when appropriate.
Model Arrangement: A remote working arrangement should be documented in writing and established uniformly for all remote employees. An agreement detailing the arrangement should include:
The worker’s workplace
The number of hours employee is expected to work
Any special equipment needed or provided
The proposed start and end dates
The worker’s job responsibilities
That all company policies still apply to the remote worker
The agreement may be revised by the Employer
Additionally, a remote working arrangement should include certifications that
The remote workplace is free from hazards
The agreement is voluntary
Working remote is understood to be a benefit and not a right
Information Security: A big risk of working remotely is the instability and lack of security on private home networks and the inability of employers to monitor remote employees habits. Be sure your remote workers understand their nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements.
Other Best Practices:
Payroll laws: These generally apply to where the employee is located, not where the office is located. Be sure to take these into consideration when you have out-of-state remote workers.
Don’t forget your remote workers: Out of sight, out of mind is a common occurrence for remote workers. Don’t forget to include them in bonus, raise, and promotion opportunities. Mistreating remote workers by not providing substantially the same opportunities as other employees may incur legal liability down the line.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of substantial changes to the operation of our country. If you have any questions regarding transferring to a remote environment or concerning your business, contact the Kendrick Law Group today for a consultation.
Co-written by: Spenser Nampon, law clerk