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Tip of the Month: Telecommuting- An Employee’s Dream; a Compliance Nightmare

Many employers choose to offer flexible work schedules to their employees. This flexibility allows some employees to telecommute from home. It can also save employers on office space and the emotional wear and tear on employees.  Employees may be eager for the chance to commute to their basement office instead of spending hours in the car in bumper to bumper traffic. While it may be advantageous to an employee’s lifestyle, employers should be mindful of a variety of complications that may arise from allowing an employee to telecommute.

Nonexempt employees (those who can earn overtime pay) who telecommute pose the biggest challenges. If an employee is working from home, exact work hours and overtime are hard to track. The employer has to take an employee’s word that the employee is or is not working overtime. It is easier with exempt employees because overtime is not a concern. Another complication arises with meal breaks. If your state requires meal breaks, how will you be sure that the employee is taking them?  Compliance with such rules is often mandatory, even if the employee claims a willingness to waive such rights. 

Another big issue is that telecommuting must be offered on a non-discriminatory basis. Employers should clearly and uniformly apply criteria in order to minimize discrimination claims. If you always grant telecommuting privileges to women, but never men, a willing plaintiff’s attorney is waiting for you!

Employers and the employee must be sure that they have the proper technology to accommodate telecommuting. You need adequate security measures, which may include data encryption, password protected computers, and/or something as simple as locked file cabinets. Also, how will the employee protect the home office? When someone is working from home, you never know who may walk into the office and you must decide if this matters to your business. Employers may want to avoid a child, spouse, or even a pet accessing important company property. This may entail requiring the home office to have a locked door.  Is such a concept acceptable to your telecommuting employee and his/her family?

Overall, telecommuting may be a great advantage to your business and your employees. It may also be a great benefit used to lure in potential employees. The question is: have you seriously considered all the possible complications and short falls that may arise? With government audits on the rise, every business should seriously evaluate their current or future telecommuting programs to ensure that they comply with both state and federal labor and employment laws.

If you want more information on telecommuting, Bob Brody is doing a webinar on this topic on September 23rd.  You can register for the webinar at: https://secure.confertel.net/tsregister.asp?course=515922&mcode=brody. Enter the promotion code “brody” to receive a 10% discount on the registration fee.