With new social distancing requirements, many employers and employees suddenly find themselves thrust into the world of telecommuting. While working remotely is a way of life for many, others have little to no experience working outside the office.

For employers, this article offers a crash course in how to minimize the potential legal headaches when allowing employees to work remotely. From wage and hour issues to beefing up data security, below are some tips for making the arrangement work:

Create a policy

It is advisable to establish a written telecommuting policy that outlines exactly how the program will work. The following are a few key issues that should be addressed: the job functions and positions that are eligible for telecommuting; the factors to be considered in deciding an employee’s request to telecommute; the length of time the employee may telecommute (i.e., is this only a temporary measure due to COVID-19); the timekeeping procedures required; the methods used to calculate and reimburse expenses; and the standards against which telecommuting employees will be evaluated and held accountable. Once you have established a remote work policy, you need to stick with it. Bending the rules can lead to complaints of favoritism or even a discrimination lawsuit.

Consider logistics

Many employees are not set up to work from home. Accordingly, employers may need to provide office equipment and technology for home offices. Businesses should also test any software platforms that employees may be using to ensure that they can handle the load of additional remote workers. Employees should also know who to contact in the business if they are experiencing technical problems.

Prioritize data security

Remote workers can increase the risk of a data breach. Accordingly, businesses should consider additional levels of security for their data, such as requiring employees to use a virtual private network (VPN), using encryption software, and relying on two-factor authentication. Employees should also be reminded about the importance of password security, performing software updates, and taking other measures to safeguard company data. They should also understand that the company’s cyber policy applies equally to those working in the office and at home.

Keep accurate time records

Dealing with wage and hour issues under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is one of the most significant challenges. Since nonexempt employees must be paid for every hour they work, accurate and detailed recordkeeping is essential. For hourly employees, it is important to outline written timekeeping procedures. Employers should also establish set working hours to make sure that employees are not working unauthorized overtime. At the same time, it is important to remember that employers are required by law to pay employees for all time and overtime hours claimed unless the employer can show that the hours were not worked. Exempt workers who work from home can also lead to legal headaches under the FLSA. Requiring set schedules or reporting of hours worked could imply that they are not really exempt from overtime requirements. Therefore, it is important to confirm their exempt status and monitor their job performance rather than their hours worked.

Talk to your legal counsel

Allowing employees to work remotely raises a number of legal concerns, including worker’s compensation claims, data privacy and security breaches, and wage and hour compliance. If this is unchartered territory for your business, it is advisable to have an experienced attorney help you navigate the process.

If you have questions, please contact us

The Scarinci Hollenbeck COVID-19 Crisis Management Group is closely monitoring the outbreak and its potential impact on our clients and the greater business community. Our dedicated attorneys are here to help navigate the numerous legal, regulatory, and commercial issues that may arise in the weeks and months ahead. If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact us at 201-896-4100.