Telecommuting or working from home has been a growing movement in recent years. Many employers have found that they can cut costs as well as increase productivity by letting certain employees work from home. For their part, many employees embrace the idea of working from home. Hours are saved each day where one does not have to wake early to “get ready” for work, get in their car and drive to the office, get settled in the office, leave for lunch, and shoot the breeze with coworkers each and every day. Money is also saved since workers do not have to worry about stocking their closets full of “work clothes,” paying to dry-clean those clothes, filling their tanks with gas, or eating out for lunch almost every day. And if all of those reasons were not enough, in the age of COVID-19, there is even more reason to embrace a remote working environment.
But not every industry is able to adapt to this style of work, and not every job position is a good fit for working from home. If you are an employer and are considering allowing some or all of your employees to work from home, here are some things that you should contemplate before making the move.
Which Positions Are a Good Fit to Work from Home?
The first thing you will need to do is to assess whether any of the positions in your business can be handled just as efficiently (or more efficiently) by working remotely. If the initial answer is “No,” then you should ask if it is possible that you can modify any positions to allow for them to be done remotely in full or in part? When assessing each position, here’s a few things to consider:
- Do the technology costs to set up this position outweigh the benefits?
- How closely does this position need to interact with others in order to be done effectively?
- Does this position require too much security to be done remotely?
- Would removing this position from the physical office negatively affect other employees?
- Is the worker able to safely and effectively perform the job in a home environment?
- Does the employee have the ability to work independently and meet deadlines without constant supervision?
- Does the employee have the knowledge to utilize the technology that is required for them to work from home?
As you can see, there are questions that need to be asked not only for each position but for each employee as well. You need to consider whether the position is remote-friendly and whether the particular employee is likely to thrive in an at-home environment.
If you believe that some or all of the positions at your office may be a good fit for remote work, the next thing you need to consider is the logistics of making the move.
What Technology Is Required?
Setting up a remote workspace is a lot like setting up a small office. Most employees will need equipment at home in order to successfully work remotely. Some of this equipment they may already have, but some may need to be purchased. If equipment needs to be purchased, you’ll need to decide who will pay for it. Will you provide it for the employee? Will you require them to choose the equipment and then reimburse the employee? Or will you leave it up to the employee to pay for the equipment themselves, and if so, will they have the option to continue working in the office if they do not wish to spend the money?
Some things that may be necessary for remote work are:
- A computer or laptop;
- A printer;
- A reliable internet connection;
- A cell phone;
- Special software or applications; and
- Office furniture – or at least a way to create a dedicated workspace.
You should check with the laws in your state regarding reimbursement for the employee’s expenses for working from home, as some states have specific laws that mandate that the employee be reimbursed. In addition, the Fair Labor Standards Act states that the employee’s reimbursed expenses cannot reduce their earnings below minimum wage, so it is a good idea to discuss the specific laws in your state with an experienced employment legal team.
What Policies Are Needed?
Each office should have an employee manual that outlines the policies and procedures for the company. However, most employee manuals do not include policies and procedures for working at home. If your current manual does not address policies for remote work, it is time for an update. Issues that should be addressed include, but are not limited to:
- Availability requirements for phone or video conversations or meetings;
- The acceptable time period for responding to emails and instant messages;
- Exactly which hours the employee must be available or “at work,” including instructions on breaks and meal periods;
- How vacations may be affected by remote work;
- Timekeeping and how work hours are recorded;
- How remote performance will be evaluated; and
- What the policy is regarding violations of these procedures and what actions may result in termination.
These factors may not apply equally to each industry, and your particular industry may have considerations not listed here. It is always best to speak to an employment legal team to make sure that you have considered every angle relevant to your business before embarking on such a change.
How Will the Remote Offices Be Maintained?
After the initial process of setting up remote workspaces and putting new policies in place, one must consider how the remote office will be maintained.
Under OSHA, there is a general obligation for an employer to protect their employees from recognizable hazards in the workspace. So some form of inspection of the homework environment – either by physical inspection or video conference – is recommended. And if an employee becomes infected with COVID-19 while working at home, the employer is still required to record the illness on its OSHA 300 log (just as if the employee contracted the virus in the office). In addition, in order to be covered by worker’s compensation insurance, employees are still required to report any work-related injuries to their employer – even if those injuries happened while they were working from home.
We Care About Employers
The attorneys at the Smithey Law Group LLC are an experienced employment legal team who believe in making the work environment as beneficial as possible to employers and employees alike. Let us help you make your company one that serves everyone’s needs, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Let us put our expertise to work for you. Call us today or contact us online to set up your initial consultation.