HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management

Remote Workers: Compliance & Management Challenges

Technology has connected more workers across geographic boundaries, allowing them to work away from the traditional worksite. When an employee works remotely, employers often have questions about how to encourage productivity and how to comply with meal and break rules, notice requirements, and other employment laws. Here are some guidelines for effectively managing remote workers.

Managing Remote Workers:

  • Determine fit. Before you allow employees to work remotely, determine whether the job requires a high level of face-to-face interaction and whether the employee's work can be monitored more by results rather than time spent on premises. You should also assess whether the employee is able to work productively on their own. Look at whether they're dependable, self-motivated, and have a have a history of high performance. Make decisions about remote work in a nondiscriminatory and consistent manner.
  • Set clear expectations. If you allow employees to work remotely, develop a written policy that outlines rules governing the conditions of employment, including steps employees must take to protect confidential company information. For instance, many employers establish minimum requirements for the remote workspace (such as having a computer, monitor and smart phone), prohibit employees from taking care of a child or elder while they're working, and require remote workers to connect to company systems through secure means only. As with all employees, set clear, measurable goals for remote workers and hold them accountable for meeting those goals. Check in with remote workers regularly to give them feedback and see how they're doing.
  • Maintain communication. When working remotely, the frequency of interactions with colleagues and supervisors tends to decline, which can also lead to the employee's work becoming less visible. To address these challenges, schedule regular meetings between remote workers and their co-workers, encourage video conferencing, invite remote workers to the main worksite periodically, and highlight and acknowledge their work to colleagues.

Complying with Employment Laws:

Employees have various rights and protections under federal, state, and local laws. However, complying with employment laws may require additional planning when it comes to remote workers. Here are several examples and guidelines for addressing them:

  • Understand which laws apply. Employment laws can vary by jurisdiction. If your company is in one state or city but your remote worker is in another, you will need to determine which laws apply to the remote worker. In many cases, such as minimum wage requirements, it's the jurisdiction in which the employee performs the work. If more than one law covers the worker, generally the law most generous to the employee would apply. For example, if an employee is covered by both a state and local minimum wage, the higher minimum wage would govern. Consult legal counsel to determine the controlling laws for your employment arrangement.
  • Keep accurate time records. Accurate time records are crucial to ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local wage and hour laws. Implement an effective process for recording all employees' work hours, such as an electronic timekeeping system that workers can access via a computer or mobile device. Also, develop policies that require employees to record all hours worked and expressly prohibit off-the-clock work.
  • Meet rest and meal period requirements. Some states require employers to provide rest or meal periods to employees. If you're covered by these laws, then you must provide these breaks to all non-exempt employees, including remote workers. Implement clearly defined policies and practices to ensure that remote workers are informed about and take required breaks. It's a best practice to require employees to punch out for unpaid meal periods. This can help ensure that employees are paid for missed lunch breaks and account for times when employees return from lunch late. Keep in mind that under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), rest breaks of 20 minutes or less must be paid. Additionally, for a meal period to be unpaid, it must generally be at least 30 minutes without interruption and the employee must be fully relieved of all duties (some states have additional requirements).
  • Furnish required notices. Various federal, state, and local laws require employers to provide certain notices regarding employees' rights and responsibilities. For remote workers, employers typically can satisfy these requirements by distributing hard copies or electronic versions of required notices. Note that some notices must be furnished in a certain size and format or in additional languages. Check your applicable laws to ensure compliance.
  • Meet reimbursement requirements. Some states expressly require employers to reimburse employees for any reasonable business expenses they incur, such as Internet access from a home office. Additionally, in most cases, under the FLSA, any work-related expense incurred by an employee that would bring their pay below the minimum wage (or cut into overtime pay) must be reimbursed. Regardless of your requirements, it's a best practice to reimburse all employees for any reasonable business expenses. Where the expense may be used for work and personal use (such as having an Internet connection), consider a system to help employees monitor and record how much of the cost is related to conducting business activities, and reimburse employees at least that amount.
  • Comply with reasonable accommodation requirements. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and many state laws, employers must provide reasonable accommodations (a change in the work environment or how work is typically done) to qualified applicants and employees with a disability, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. Some laws require accommodations in additional circumstances. To provide reasonable accommodations to remote workers, employers may need to make adjustments to equipment or how the work is done. If an employee asks for an accommodation, discuss and identify what, if any, reasonable accommodation should be provided. Limit the conversation to the nature of the issue, the individual's functional limitations, and alternative accommodations that may effectively enable the employee to perform the essential functions of their job.

    Note: Allowing an employee to work remotely may be considered a reasonable accommodation in itself if, among other reasons, an employee is unable to travel to and from work because of a disability.

Conclusion:

Before permitting employees to work remotely, develop policies and procedures to help you manage effectively and comply with all applicable laws.

Want to learn more about managing remote workers? Check out How to Overcome the Challenges of Managing Remote Workers on our small business podcast, HR{preneur}.

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