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Reader: I recently became the boss of a small business. During the coronavirus pandemic, some of our remote employees have decided to leave town without seeking or receiving employer approval. Who is responsible for their expenses when they return to town for a meeting or conference — the employer or the employee?

Distant workers who have moved out of town seem to think the employer should pay for their transportation, hotel and meals when they return to work in town. Besides being an extra expense for a small business, it also seems unfair to local employees, since we don’t cover their travel expenses when they come into the office. Any thoughts on this?

The remote work revolution is already reshaping America

Karla: As the dust settles after the Great Resignation / Great Relocation / Great Whatever-we-call-it-now, remote work has enabled more workers than ever to leave their desks – and in some cases, far away. of them. Some seek more affordable and spacious housing, or move closer to family or live in a neighborhood that suits their overall well-being.

But employees who suddenly and unilaterally change the terms of their working conditions, on the pretext that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, must understand that they are always likely to hear “no”. With a worker-friendly job market and employers desperate to retain talent, many workers decided they were ready to take the risk.

This employee-driven exodus has forced many employers to rethink their business model and how they manage their dispersed workforces. Some, including Meta/Facebook, Novartis, Dropbox and Slack, are adopting a “remote work” model for most or all employees. Others, including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Tesla, are choosing to limit or ban remote working. Between these extremes are employers like you, looking for a legal, cost-effective, and fair hybrid solution for out-of-town and out-of-town workers.

First, there is the question of what is legal. As you note, regular travel costs between home and work are generally not covered by employers, and this travel time is generally not considered work time. But when a worker’s home becomes their primary workplace, it may change how the law considers travel between that primary workplace and other employer-owned sites.

Federal law does not require employers to reimburse employees for any expense unless it reduces their wages below minimum wage. But California and other states require reimbursement of certain work-related expenses, including travel. You must therefore begin by determining whether you are legally required to cover the cost of transporting employees to your office or whether you have the option of refusing to do so.

Then there is the issue of cost. Travel expenses would be an additional expense. Allowing remote workers’ homes to become their primary place of work, especially if they’ve moved to another state or country, can also mean additional tax exposure and other new expenses. But refusing to allow these changes can also cost you dearly if those workers quit and you have to replace them.

If you decide that paying for travel is the best investment, you can control those costs with a clear and consistent expense policy; limit the frequency of required office visits; and revising your compensation structure to account for the varying cost of living in different geographies, including pay cuts or leveling future raises and bonuses for workers in lower-cost areas. You may even be able to soften the financial blow if the new expenses you pay are tax deductible. Either way, you should talk to tax, legal, and benefits experts to determine the most cost-effective options.

Finally, there is the question of what is fair. As you say, it’s not entirely normal that employees who have made a unilateral decision to leave the commuting zone have to travel, sleep and eat at the company’s expense while local employees pay for themselves these costs. And make no mistake that local employees won’t notice or care about this disparity.

Lawsuit Alleges Booz Allen Employee Lost His Job Due To Remote Work For Migraines

But as with any personal lifestyle choice that can lead to friction in the workplace — workers with kids versus those without, early risers versus night owls — there are ways to balance the plates. If you’re not already doing so, you can offer local employees transit and parking benefits; offer group meals at the office; and, of course, allowing local workers the same kind of flexibility and autonomy over their working hours that their colleagues from outside enjoy. And you should design a policy outlining how your company will handle remote work and relocation requests in the future.

There’s no guaranteed solution to making everyone happy, but if you’re deliberate, consistent, and transparent in your response to these changes, your business can emerge stronger.

Reader’s request: Does your employer require employees to live within commuting distance of an office? let me know at [email protected]

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