Of all the goals and priorities you had for your business at the beginning of 2020, arranging for telecommuting of your entire workforce likely was not one of them. But as employees settle into their “home offices,” one chief concern of business owners is how to ensure employees can perform their duties effectively and efficiently while they “Stay Safe, Stay Healthy.” Enter, the Remote Work Policy.

An effective Remote Work Policy will address both technology systems and operational expectations. This post will discuss Remote Work Policies as they apply during “normal” times and provide exceptions to these policies that might apply in an organization during our current “shelter in place” reality.

Who is approved to telecommute and how often?

The first question to ask when considering remote work is, “Which positions and employees is remote work appropriate?” For instance, employees of most tech and marketing firms probably have the ability to perform their duties from home. On the other hand, work from home may not be a possibility for many workers at a manufacturing company or a restaurant. Every business is different, and business owners must address which positions are eligible for remote work.

Once you have determined who, you must ask when. How often are employees permitted to work from home? For example, if you offer remote work as a job perk, it may be limited to only Fridays. On the other hand, if the company’s goal is to scale down the required office and desk space, it makes sense to encourage employees to work from home more often.

COVID-19 Considerations: The typical eligibility standards for remote work have shifted in light of government “Stay Home” directives and safety concerns. Employers must be flexible in allowing all non-essential employees to work from home where possible.

What expectations does the company have for remote work employees?

Arguably the most important provisions in any Remote Work Policy are those that address operational expectations. These sections ensure that employees understand expectations and provide for a smooth transition and continued teamwork. The following are some operational matters that your Remote Work Policy may need to address.

Work Hours and Time Tracking: Clearly state the expectations around working hours. Are employees required to be available during core working hours, or can employees work a flexible schedule? Often work hours are addressed on a case-by-case basis with employees who have scheduling needs, such as picking up kids from school or attending doctor appointments. Be sure to consider any required scheduling accommodations for employees with ADA-covered disabilities.

Communicate to non-exempt employees that work hours must be tracked accurately and completely, and also be clear about the company’s policies around overtime. When working from home, it can be easy for any employee to continue working well after work hours. As an employer, you must pay them for all hours worked, though you can discipline employees for working overtime without obtaining approval per company policy.

Workspace: Employees who telecommute consistently should have a dedicated workspace that has adequate access to the internet and is free from hazards and distractions. In many cases, companies will require inspection and approval of remote workspaces, as well as regular checks to ensure workspaces remain compliant. Employers should also confirm that the employee’s homeowners insurance is up-to-date and consult with an insurance broker to ensure that the company has any recommended insurance coverage in place.

It is important to note that employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment for employees. This is also true for remote workers. Employees who sustain work-related injuries are eligible for workers’ compensation, which could include tripping on an extension cable or dropping a box of work documents. A Remote Work Policy should remind employees that the company is not responsible for any injuries that occur at home outside of their designated workspace or that are not otherwise work-related.

Participation, communication, measurements of success: Be clear about the company’s expectations for participation, teamwork, collaboration, and communication. Employees should understand how success is measured and how working remotely will impact their day-to-day interactions with coworkers. For instance, you may require employees to submit reports regularly or attend a standing meeting. They may have specific Key Performance Indicators or regular one-on-ones with their manager.

Dependent care: Under normal circumstances, employees who telecommute consistently may need to ensure they have dependent care during regular working hours.

COVID-19 Considerations: Many employees who do not consistently work remotely are now having to do so, and as such, may not have an ideal working environment in their homes. Internet may be inconsistent and bandwidth may be saturated by high utilization in their area. Additionally, schools and childcare facilities are closed. Employee workspaces may be the foot of the bed or the couch. Do what you can as an employer to help your employees establish a functioning workspace and understand that distractions and technical challenges are almost certain to occur.

What systems and equipment will the company provide, and what expenses will the company cover?

Review the tools and systems currently in place to support remote working. These might include cloud storage programs, collaboration tools, VPNs, and video conferencing tools. Also review the company’s policies governing information security. If you don’t already have the appropriate systems and policies in place, you may need to close some gaps. For more information on addressing data privacy as a business problem, view our blog post here.

Once you have established the appropriate tools and policies, inform employees of the tools and systems that are available to them and any expenses that the company will cover. Arrange for training or provide documentation to help employees get up to speed on any new systems.

Will the company be providing all necessary equipment, including laptop, monitor, phone, headset, docking station, and other accessories? If the employee will be using any personal devices, a Bring Your Own Device Policy should include what security measures they need to take before using a personal cell phone or laptop for work purposes. Will the company cover remote working costs, such as internet and phone plans?

Finally, consider any additional equipment needed to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. These might include assistive screen readers, standing desks, or other ergonomic equipment.

COVID-19 Considerations: All of these same principles apply during COVID-19. If your company was not already set up to work remotely prior to COVID-19 isolation orders, it is not too late. Many companies are offering free services during this time to assist businesses with maintaining operations.

Enlist Help

Speak with an attorney about drafting your Remote Work Policy, and any other questions you have about transitioning to a telecommuting workplace, by contacting us at 425-250-0205 or contact@equinoxbusinesslaw.com.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general information and should not be viewed as legal advice. You should talk with counsel familiar with your unique business needs before taking or refraining from any action.

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