The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to the workplace after stay-at-home orders, isolation and quarantine requirements, and accommodation requests have led many employees to temporarily work from home. Both employers and employees have recognized some benefits of remote work arrangements, leading many business leaders to explore hybrid and permanent remote work policies. While remote working arrangements may not be practical for every job or desired by every employer, when such arrangements are adopted and incorporated into company policy, employers should ensure that they take appropriate precautions. . Below are seven tips employers should consider when implementing remote work policies.
- Create a written remote work policy
You should consider creating a written policy setting out the criteria and guidelines for remote work. Will all employees and roles be eligible? Identify the roles that are critical to your business operations and determine if these people can perform their jobs while working remotely. Set performance standards and expectations upfront, and include policies on security and data protection, safety, and expectations for equipment and materials.
- Revise the rules on the reimbursement of expenses
Make sure your compensation practices for all employees — those working onsite and those working remotely — comply with applicable federal and state wage and hour laws. In some states, such as California, employers must ensure that all “reasonable” and “necessary” business expenses to perform remote work are reimbursed. At least ten states – California, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and South Dakota – and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring employers to reimburse employees for certain work expenses. remote work.
Even if the affected state does not require reimbursement, failure to reimburse could result in allegations of federal wage and hour violations for those paid at or near minimum wage. For example, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (LSF), employers are generally not required to reimburse employees for work-related expenses unless the costs cause the employee’s earnings to fall below minimum wage. This means you need to take extra care to ensure that additional expenses incurred by remote employees for business-related items, such as office supplies, internet access, and printers, do not lower pay below the required rates or do not reduce their overtime pay. In addition, exempt employees working remotely should receive the full salary to which they are entitled subject to legal deductions. If they are authorized, the expenses they are responsible for covering must not bring their salary below the threshold required for the exemption.
Expenses can take many forms, and employers should review the benefits and amenities they typically offer onsite employees to determine what perks they plan to offer remote workers. For example, if traditional employees get a free monthly lunch, consider whether you will reimburse remote employees for a personal meal of equal value. Travel is another important consideration for remote workers. If non-exempt employees work from home and are required to travel to their employer’s office after the start of their working day, for example for a meeting, they may also be entitled to compensation for their travel time. at the office in addition to a fuel reimbursement per mile.
Your remote work policy must include a section on refunds that complies with the laws of the states in which you operate. Indicate which expenses may or may not be reimbursable and whether you will provide an allowance that you believe will reasonably cover these costs. To ensure refunds are properly documented, consider the following tips:
- Itemize reimbursements on employee pay stubs.
- Clearly explain if you will need pre-authorization before an employee submits a claim.
- Determine if there will be a cap on the amount an employee can request reimbursement.
- If you refuse a refund, document the reasons.
- Provide access to an effective time tracking system
An effective computer or app-based timekeeping system can help employees accurately track their hours worked and help you monitor the accuracy of timesheets. You may want employees to sign their timesheets and verify their accuracy. Additionally, you should consider training non-exempt employees and their supervisors on timekeeping requirements and what constitutes “hours worked.” Be sure to compensate non-exempt employees for all hours worked, including overtime worked, and let them know – as you would on-site employees – that working “out of hours” is not authorised. You can sanction employees who do not properly record their hours or work unauthorized overtime, but you must pay them for all hours worked.
- Be prepared for possible workers compensation claims
Work-from-home arrangements do not immunize employers from workers’ compensation claims. Work-at-home injuries may be compensable if they result from work performed in the course of and in the course of employment. If the employer did not contribute to the risk of an accident resulting in injury, however, a state’s workers’ compensation law may not require the employer to cover the cost of the injury. State workers’ compensation laws vary, so be sure to check the applicable rules and consult with an attorney.
- Establish hours of operation
Remote workers may have more difficulty than on-site workers when it comes to shutting down their computers and getting the day’s work done, especially if their superiors contact them outside of normal working hours. You can show respect for the employee’s personal time by establishing business hours and times for breaks and meal periods. Note that some state laws require non-exempt workers to take rest and meal breaks at particular times, which would continue to apply to remote workers. Fixing opening hours should also reduce the risk of out-of-hours claims in the case of non-exempt workers.
- Security and Privacy
The combination of modern technology and remote working presents unique security and privacy issues. Your remote work policy should emphasize the importance of online security measures to ensure that work-from-home arrangements do not leave systems vulnerable to cyberattacks and viruses. You can implement certain protocols to reduce vulnerabilities, including:
- Inform employees of your security expectations. Let your employees know what you expect of them when working remotely.
- Require secure apps for work-related communication. Employers should only use a secure, protected app or work email to communicate to ensure that work-related information remains protected.
- Require employees to lock their computers when not in use. Employees may feel more comfortable leaving their devices unattended while working remotely than if they were in the office, but it’s important for employers to clarify how critical it is to keep information private of the company, regardless of the location of the employee.
- Require your employees to use unique and complex passwords when logging into work accounts. Weak passwords are the main gateway to a security breach, and this small change can make a big difference.
- Use a VPN. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are often used to allow employees to access the same information as at work, but remotely.
- Require employees to use a monitor privacy screen. Some employers may feel more comfortable requiring their employees to use privacy screens to prevent others from viewing personal information.
- Provide employees with a secure work computer. Having your employees perform their work only on company-provided secure devices offers better protection than using personal electronic devices.
- Use of up-to-date encrypted conferencing software. Many employers use platforms for meetings, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Requiring all employees to use the same encrypted software adds another layer of protection for confidential company information.
- Define clear procedures for employees to follow in the event of a data breach. No matter what steps an employer takes to protect remote workers, accidents can still happen. Make sure employees clearly understand the steps to report and mitigate a security breach if it happens to them.
- Give remote workers the opportunity to review policies
Particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers have been interviewed, hired, and started working from home without ever meeting anyone in person or visiting a physical job site. Make sure these workers are oriented and trained on company policies, just like on-site employees, and have online access to those policies and federal and state posters that would typically be displayed in a room break. For example, an employee with a disability qualified under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation for their home office, such as specialized equipment or technology. Be able to demonstrate that the company has published its reasonable accommodation policy to this employee and provided training to its virtual manager on ADA to meet the needs of this employee. Just because people aren’t there doesn’t mean there won’t be discrimination. So make sure remote workers know their rights and know how to make requests or report issues internally.
A purposefully managed remote work policy can increase employee flexibility and drive exceptional results. Taking proper precautions and carefully implementing these policies will go a long way to ensuring your compliance with applicable federal and state laws.