When the pandemic began, many employees went home and remote work was on an ad-hoc basis. Two years in and many employees who previously worked in an office want to remain at home. Working from home is no longer contingent on a public health crisis. It is just another way of working; it is here to stay. With that in mind, now is a good time for companies to adopt (or review and update) their remote work policies and procedures to ensure they reflect up-to-date expectations.
Here are five key areas to consider when drafting or revising a remote work policy:
1. Eligibility and General Guidelines
A remote work policy should clearly identify those positions that are eligible for remote work. When a position is eligible, the policy should establish a process to confirm the employee has a suitable space to conduct the work at home with proper internet access. Once approved, the policy should establish a review period, such as 90 days, to confirm the arrangement is working successfully and should separately confirm the company’s right to modify or cancel a work-from-home agreement at any time.
All work-from-home arrangements should commit employees to complying with standard company policies and standards of conduct, including any productivity standards, being available during regular work hours, engaging in prompt and appropriate communication and compliance with policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment.
2. Wage and Hour/ Leaves of Absence
The vast majority of employees must accurately record all hours worked pursuant to their classification as “nonexempt” under federal and state law. Tracking time on a remote basis can present difficulties for employees, especially if the employee is subject to distractions at home during the workday. The remote policy should clearly state the company’s expectations for nonexempt employees to track all time worked and should prohibit any “off-the-clock” work. The policy should also provide guidance for how employees should correct time entries when needed. Under NH labor regulation, anytime entries are altered, this must be signed or initialed by the employee.
Employers should also assess whether the employee may be entitled to a higher minimum wage rate or alternative leaves of absence if they will be working from home in a different state. The state where an employee’s place of employment is located may impose wage and hour, and leave requirements even if that place of employment is a home office. This can create additional obligations for employers that should be anticipated in any remote work policy.
Finally, remote work policies should address what, if any, business-related expenses will be covered by the company, consistent with applicable federal, state or local laws.
3. Health and Safety
The pandemic has affected the stress levels of all employees, including those who work remotely. Effective communication by management is usually one factor employees point to as helping to minimize an otherwise stressful time period.
Managers should give separate consideration for how they will effectively communicate with remote employees to ensure their health and wellness.
In addition, employers should confirm that their workers’ compensation insurance policies cover accidents that occur in the course of employment, but outside of the company’s regular workplaces. Employees should be instructed to immediately report any accidents or injuries suffered in their remote work capacity.
For many years, companies have created secure cloud-based infrastructures that permit employees to work from anywhere.
Where employees now work from home more frequently, it is essential to set standards and rules for employees to follow to limit potential information breaches and to protect the company’s confidential information. The company should remind employees in any remote work policy about the importance of complying with any existing confidentiality policies, as well as the importance of affirmatively safeguarding the company’s assets and confidential information from misuse or disclosure to third parties (including family members) and its equipment from damage or theft.
5. Tax Payments
Remote work arrangements may have tax implications for both employers and employees, especially when the employee is working in a location where the company is not already operating. These potential tax liabilities should be addressed by the company before approving a work-from-home arrangement. The company should also caution the employee that it is not providing any tax advice, and it is the employee’s responsibility to determine any income tax implications of maintaining a home office for remote work. Employers and employees should each consult with tax professionals to discuss the various implications of the proposed work-from-home arrangement.
If your company doesn’t have a remote work policy, or it hasn’t been updated in a while, add it to your 2022 to-do list.
Margaret O’Brien is a director at McLane Middleton and vice chair of McLane Middleton’s Employment Law Practice Group. She can be reached at Margaret.OBrien@mclane.com.