Legal hurdles to avoid when creating remote work policies

Today, working from home is a highly valued perk at many companies.

As a result, many organizations are implementing work-from-home-benefits for employees to attract and retain top talent, and to stay competitive.

But when crafting policies about these benefits, remember: Without a legally sound remote work policy, your efforts to improve working conditions can unexpectedly create big legal problems.

Crafting sound policy

Not only will sound work-from-home policies keep employees on track while working offsite, but they’ll help avoid potential legal problems that can arise from remote work.

Here are five legal hurdles you’ll want to look out for when drafting a remote work policy.

1. FLSA violations. One of the most obvious problems with remote employees is tracking the hours they’re actually working.

If your workers are salaried and exempt from overtime, this isn’t a big deal: they’ll get paid the same regardless of how many hours they put in at home. But if your employees are paid by the hour and are eligible for overtime, FLSA violations could be one punch of the time clock away.

Even if you itell your employees to not exceed 40 hours a week, they still have to be paid overtime if they do. And keeping tabs on their activity is significantly more difficult when they’re out of the office.

But there are ways you can keep them on track. At the start of each remote day, ask what the employee will be working on, with whom, and what hours they’re active.

Another good idea is setting hours when no employee should be checking email or logging onto their computers, or doing any other common, work-related activities.

2Discrimination/Disability-related issues. Remote workers can easily become “out of sight, out of mind” employees, which can have serious consequences.

Example: Your remote workers are primarily women caring for their children and disabled employees who need to work from home as their ADA accommodation.

If you don’t offer these remote workers the same support and opportunities for advancement as your in-office workers, you could be faced with sex discrimination and disability discrimination lawsuits.

To avoid this, your policy should discuss remote workers’ right to training, promotions and visibility.

3. Work environment obligations. Just because an employee isn’t working in the office doesn’t mean an employer isn’t responsible for their health and safety.

Before granting an employee permission to work from home, an employer should determine remote workers’ environments are suitable for getting the job done and don’t pose any undue risk.

If an employee gets hurt on the job, even if they aren’t in the office, the employer could still face legal consequences.

4. Data security concerns. When employees start doing business outside the office and on mobile devices, a whole host of new security concerns pop up.

To help control potential breaches, it’s best to restrict remote employees’ ability to print or download confidential documents. Remind them not to share their login credentials with anyone else, and limit remote access to company systems.

5. Worksite closures. Something else you’ll want spelled out in your policy is what remote worker are supposed to do when the company or worksite is closed, for instance, from a weather event or power outage.

If some employees end up working when the company isn’t open, those employees are most likely owed wages. Clarify what’s expected of remote workers in this situation.

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