When I entered the workforce in 1984 in Washington, D.C., hierarchy was everywhere you looked in the office.
Presidential appointees, supervisors and senior partners had massive corner offices or walled offices with views, while newer employees and support staff were assigned to internal offices or cubicles bathed in florescent light.
Now, many employees question whether a physical office is even necessary when they can work remotely and virtually.
Whatever your office arrangement, and even if working from home will not be a permanent option for your employees, remote work still presents a host of legal challenges for employers to consider.
Security — If your telecommuting employee is taking home sensitive or proprietary documents or electronic data, and working from a wireless Internet connection, security issues may arise.
Ask your IT department to confirm the telecommuter is equipped to access company data appropriately and securely, either from a secure connection or through a VPN.
You also should direct your telecommuting employees to regularly change passwords and to store hard-copy confidential information in a secure place away from children, pets, spouses and roommates. This could all be included in the remote work policy and agreement.
Workers’ Compensation and OSHA — What happens if your telecommuter slips and injures herself on work-related papers at home? Employers are responsible for a safe working environment for their employees regardless of whether their employees work from home or the office.
To limit safety issues, establish telecommuting employee’s work time and work environment and require them to designate a specific area at home to serve as an office and to take lunch and rest breaks at designated times.
Likewise, although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has indicated it will not conduct routine investigations of home work sites, employers likely need to comply with OSHA regulations on recording work-related injuries and comply with safety and ergonomics policies with respect to employees’ home offices.
Payroll records, leave and compensation — The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay certain non-exempt employees for all hours worked and to keep accurate information regarding hours worked.
The FLSA explicitly applies this rule “to work performed away from the premises or the job site, or even at home,” and requires employers to count the time as hours worked if “the employer knows or has reason to believe that the work is being performed.”
Likewise, the FLSA requires employers to compensate those employees at or above the federal minimum wage for all hours worked. It also requires employers to pay those employees overtime for all hours worked more than 40 hours in a given workweek.
The federal rules on overtime, waiting time, on-call time and rest and meal breaks apply to qualifying telecommuters as much as they do to employees in the workplace.
Employers with telecommuters therefore should establish some mechanism to track those hours and to ensure their accuracy in the absence of a supervisor.
At a minimum, your employee’s remote work agreement should stipulate the number of hours the employee is expected to work each day or week and how those hours are to be recorded.
The bottom line: Whether your workforce is in person, remote or uses a hybrid work schedule, your company has legitimate business objectives to complete and should have a method of documenting and measuring them.
Wilford H. Stone is a lawyer with Lynch Dallas in Cedar Rapids.