Remote Workers… How Can You Protect Your Company When Your Workers Work From Home?

Working from home – it’s the dream of so many workers!  With today’s technology, working outside the confines of a traditional office has never been easier.  Whether your employees are based at their own home office, using a co-working or executive office space, or taking up residence at their favorite coffee shop, remember that they are still entitled to all the protections afforded by state and federal law, and you as the employer still have all the obligations.

Wage and Hour Laws

As you know, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, you must compensate your workers for all hours worked, including paying overtime to qualifying employees for any hours worked in excess of 40 in a given week.  Remember, as of January 1, 2020, even salaried employees can earn overtime pay, if their weekly compensation is less than $684.

A remote employee is very likely working irregular hours by logging on, checking email, or doing any type of work throughout the day, rather than working a straight 9-5 workday.  As the employer, you should come up with a system for remote employees to easily track their hours, and make sure that your record-keeping is accurate so that they are compensated for all hours worked.

Many companies have employees that work remotely only occasionally, with the bulk of their work time in the office.  This could include attending off-site meetings or training classes, and even checking work emails from home at night or on weekends.  If you know, or have reason to believe, that an employee is doing this, you are obligated to compensate them for that work.

As the employer, however, you can set the rules for what work is performed out of the office, if any. You can adopt a policy that prohibits your employees – both remote and otherwise – from working overtime, unless specifically authorized. Just be sure to very clearly communicate this in advance. This will go a long way toward maintaining control over the number of hours your employees work and the overtime obligations you may incur.

Workers’ Compensation Laws

Remote employees are covered by your workers’ compensation insurance in the same way that your other employees are – if an injury or illness occurs while they are working or if it is directly related to the performance of their work, regardless of the location. See last month’s newsletter specifically about workers’ comp HERE.

Because they are working in a place where work and non-work activities may mix, it’s important for your remote worker to keep track of when they are “on the clock” or not.  An injury that occurs in a coffeehouse, for example, after your employee has finished working for the day and is meeting with a friend will not be compensable under workers’ comp. Explain the importance of accuracy in their record-keeping and make sure your payroll department gets a copy of the time records on a regular basis.

OSHA Laws

Believe it or not, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) laws apply to home-based worksites.  As the employer, you are responsible for any materials or equipment that you provide or require that may be hazardous.

While OSHA does not routinely conduct inspections of home-based worksites, they will do so upon a complaint of a violation or a concern that the conditions present a threat to a worker’s physical safety. Be proactive with this.  Question your remote employees about the conditions of their workspace and counsel them about safety factors.

Employment Law Posters

State and federal laws require that all employers post notices informing employees of their legal rights.  Depending on the size of your company, these posters may include the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, information about unemployment compensation, Arizona’s minimum wage, and Arizona’s Earned Paid Sick Time law, among many others.

Generally, these posters would be in a central location in your office, perhaps a break room or near the restrooms.  If you have remote employees, make sure you communicate these notices clearly.  Send an email when a new employee is hired with all required notifications.  Post these notices on your company intranet or other employee portal. As a last resort, print and mail to your remote employees.

Remote Employee Policies

The best way to steer clear of misunderstandings regarding your company’s stance on remote workers is to draft a clear policy document.  Be sure to include:
  • A list of job functions that may be eligible
  • A process for employees to request approval to work remotely. If you have an employee with a disability recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arranging for the employee to work remotely for some or all of their work hours may qualify as the “reasonable accommodation” required by the law
  • Details of the expectations for a remote worker, in terms or work hours, breaks, timekeeping, and accessibility for calls or meetings
  • Instructions for implementing security and privacy protocols for electronic communication and remotely accessible files
  • A signature line for the remote worker to acknowledge agreement and compliance with the policies

Allowing remote work does not relieve the employee of their obligations to you in any way. While it is becoming much more mainstream, remember that it is not a worker’s “right” but rather a choice you, as the employer, are making based on a belief that working remotely will not diminish the worker’s productivity or effectiveness at their job.

If you have remote workers or are considering instituting this as a policy, become educated on the relevant employment laws.  Schedule a consultation with me if I can help get this process started.

NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES. IT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE, NOR DOES IT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. EACH SITUATION IS DIFFERENT. YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY TO DETERMINE YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS, REMEDIES, AND DUTIES.

By Wendy M. Anderson, Esq.
Law Office of Wendy Anderson, PLLC
480-825-4509
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