The Legal Pitfalls of Remote Workers

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Over the past year, many companies have attempted to return employees to in-person work in the office. Employers have oftentimes been met with pushback and even refusal to return. In response, many employers have been rethinking the perceived need to be in person. With this shift, employers must be cognizant of the potential legal pitfalls and liability the come with having a remote workforce.

Watch the Clock

The first pitfall that employers with a remote workforce face is keeping track of time. While working from home, many employees end up mixing their personal and work time—taking a break to do a load of laundry, then returning to a conference call. But for non-exempt employees, accurate time records are critical.

Non-Exempt employees should record and report their time worked daily. Employers should train employees to understand this time-keeping requirement. Checking emails before going to bed, for example, is “work time” and should be recorded.

State Law Compliance

State laws vary regarding a variety of employment issues, including expense reimbursements, overtime pay, final pay requirements. An employer with a remote workforce may have employees in many states, subjecting them to the laws of each of those states.

Maintaining a multi-state workforce could mean that an employer with an employee in Illinois must pay for that employee’s cell phone, but would not have to do so for another employee in Florida. Employers will have to decide whether to implement one uniform policy that applies to all employees or to follow state-specific laws with only the employees concerned.

Communication is Key

Employers are required by federal, state, and local laws to communicate with employees regarding their legal rights. In a traditional office environment, employers will place posters in a breakroom. However, employers must still ensure that workers are provided with this information, even if they are remote workers.

Fostering a Good Culture

One of the more difficult aspects of having remote workers is promoting a positive and healthy workplace culture. Employers should be aware that remote work will not stop discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Unfortunately, these negative behaviors can take place via email, chat, or text. In fact, workplace misconduct may even adapt and take advantage of remote work technologies. It is important that employers take extra steps to foster a healthy and productive work environment. Having weekly check-ins with employees, providing additional training, and offering town halls can all help foster an enduring workplace culture. Employer can also be proactive. Instead of trying to avoid misconduct in the remote setting, businesses must actively consider how to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in this new workplace reality.

Protect your Business

When employees work from home, the protection of your trade secrets, intellectual property, and confidential information will be harder to control. It will be important to have strong employment agreements with serious consequences for a breach of confidentiality.

As the workplace evolves, it is important that you take a look at your current practices and make appropriate changes to ensure your business remains compliant. An employment attorney can help you navigate this changing dynamic and ensure your business remains protected.