As telecommuting continues to gain popularity with it comes a new set of compliance challenges for businesses.
Telecommuting occurs when employees do some or all of their work away from the company’s main office. Computers, laptops and cell phones, and the availability of high-speed internet connections and secure servers, make working from home, hotels, airports, libraries or coffee shops much easier.
According to the 2017 “State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce Report,” almost three percent of U.S. employees worked from home at least half of the time. This is a 115 percent increase in telecommuting jobs since 2005. Globally, the percentage of employees who work away from the office is higher. In 2018, IWG, a Switzerland-based service office provider, reported that 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week, while 53 percent work remotely at least half of the week.
Telecommuting’s appeal to employees is that the increase in flexibility creates better work-life balance and the decrease in travel time means less time on the road and less wear and tear on their vehicles.
The principal appeal to employers is that less office space is needed, meaning lower facility and infrastructure costs. Global Workplace Analytics reports that a typical business can save about $11,000 per person in reduced office space and associated costs when employees telecommute.
As good as that might sound, there are legal issues surrounding telecommuting. Consider talking to an employment law attorney to put in place a formal company policy before starting your telecommuting program.
Here are a few of the compliance issues you might face:
Time and Compensation
Although findings from the Champlain College’s Online Masters in Law degree program indicate that salaried workers are more likely to work remotely than nonexempt employees, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to monitor employees’ productivity. It’s particularly important when nonexempt employees telecommute. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to keep accurate records of the hours employees work, as well as to pay employees for all hours worked — including overtime for more than 40 hours per week. Telecommuters also must be allowed rest and meal breaks.
Human resource experts recommend employers have a written telecommuting policy that employees sign off on. The policy can include the number of hours expected to be worked each day or week and how hours are recorded. It also should stress that non-exempt employees are prohibited from working off-the-clock.
In addition to possibly using an electronic system to track hours, mangers and supervisors should communicate regularly with employees who work off site.
If you require your employees to use company-owned equipment, such as a computer or cell phone, you should determine ahead of time who will be responsible for any damage or theft of the equipment. Have your employees sign paperwork acknowledging their responsibility and whether the equipment can be used for personal reasons.
Businesses that deal in confidential and proprietary information must ensure that remote employees are working from a secure connection or through a VPN. Employees also should secure access to company information by using encryption, passwords and network firewalls and avoid the use of personal devices for company business.
Employees who are injured on the job — even when working at home — can file worker’s compensation claims because employers are responsible for the safety of their employees. To reduce the possibility of injuries, it’s helpful to have employees set aside the part of their home used as office space and reduce fatigue by designating set times for breaks and lunch.
ADA and FMLA Laws
Employees who are disabled often are better accommodated when they work from home. These employment situations are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); state workers’ compensation laws; privacy concerns; and workplace safety. Your managers and supervisors must ensure they are providing reasonable accommodations and are in compliance with those rules and regulations.