Virtual Offices

By ComplyRight –

More and more businesses are allowing employees to work remotely due to the COVID-19 crisis. While this approach makes sense, it can open the door to increased legal problems. Business owners and managers must oversee the remote worker arrangement carefully to avoid obstacles. Here are five risky situations to consider. Click To Tweet

#1: Managing Non-Exempt Workers Remotely

Supervising exempt (i.e., “salaried”) and non-exempt (i.e. “hourly”) workers presents challenges. Let’s look at some important issues surrounding non-exempt employees first.

As with onsite employees, you must track the time of all non-exempt remote workers to maintain compliance. The law doesn’t require a particular manner of timekeeping. But whichever method is used, the key is that the records must be an accurate reflection of employees’ hours of work.

When managing remote workers, an electronic system is particularly helpful. Otherwise, you can implement weekly time sheets for employees to fill out and submit.

Next, you need to be cautious about unauthorized overtime. When employees telecommute, they tend to work beyond their scheduled hours (e.g., checking emails at night). Consequently, “off-the-clock” work becomes a real risk.

It’s critical to communicate your policy to non-exempt workers. Explain that they should only work their scheduled hours and nothing more. Once they clock out, they should not perform any work duties whatsoever. And remember, if non-exempt employees work unauthorized overtime, they may be subject to disciplinary action, but they must be compensated for their time.

#2: Managing Exempt Workers Remotely

60% of small businesses allowing remote work as a result of the pandemicThe biggest pitfall when managing remote exempt workers is accidentally jeopardizing their exempt status. You run the risk of damaging this status if you over-manage work hours for these employees (something that can be quite tough with remote workers). Specifically, you should not track work hours for pay purposes. And you should not establish fixed work hours, unless the role calls for it, such as a customer service manager who fields calls during set hours.

From a time-management perspective, you can specify when exempt employees must be available for meetings and collaboration. Of course, you also can set expectations for results such as project development, deadlines and the general amount of work anticipated.

Remember, with exempt employees you’re managing goals and deliverables, not hours worked. Finally, to avoid damaging the employee’s exempt status, make sure the employee’s role doesn’t shift to predominantly non-exempt duties.

#3: Handling COVID-Related Leave Requests

Until the COVID-19 outbreak, there were no federal laws requiring employers to provide paid leave for employees. But in the face of a growing health crisis, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was passed, affecting all private employers with fewer than 500 employees as well as public employers. Until December 31, 2020, the law provides 80 hours of paid leave for eligible full-time employees who are:

• Subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19

• Advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns

• Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis

• Caring for an individual subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order, or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns

• Caring for the employee’s child if the child’s school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19 related reasons

• Experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services

In addition to the paid leave explained above, the FFCRA amends the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to allow emergency paid family leave for employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees who are unable to work in order to care for a child whose school or place of care closed during the national emergency. In this situation, the enhanced provisions are not dependent on the previous company standard of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Further still, an employee must be employed for only 30 days (rather than the typical 12-month employment period/1,250 hours) to be eligible for this FMLA provision.

#4: Complying with Mandatory Posting and Notification Laws

All U.S. businesses are required by law to display certain postings to inform employees of their legal rights and responsibilities. But many employers don’t realize they must supply telecommuters with the same information.

If your remote workers report to your physical location at least three times a month, you’re likely in compliance with government recommendations — provided you prominently display up-to-date labor law postings in your business. If your remote workers visit the office less frequently, however, traditional postings at the office won’t be enough.

The law is clear about your responsibility to share labor law posting information with all employees, regardless of where they work. But it isn’t so precise about the delivery method. Although posters on the wall work for traditional employees, recent legislation suggests that transmitting the information electronically is a compliant solution for remote workers.

In addition, there is a new development impacting employers. Laws are being passed requiring employee handouts based on specific employee-related events — such as requests for leave, workplace injuries, pregnancy and termination. The requirements vary by state and municipality. These notifications apply to all employees, including remote workers.

#5 Conducting Harassment Training

And here’s a final tip… with all the challenges your business is facing, harassment training may not be on your radar. While most employers are aware of the importance of preventing harassment in the workplace during normal circumstances, you may think it’s less of an issue when employees are working remotely. But harassment can still happen in a virtual environment.

Workplace harassment continues to be a major concern, so it’s important to protect your business. Self-guided training can be a great option — allowing your employees to complete harassment training in the office or at home.

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About ComplyRight: ComplyRight’s mission is to free employers from the burden of tracking and complying with the complex web of federal, state and local employment laws, so they can stay focused on managing and growing their businesses. ComplyRight tracks federal, state and local regulatory activity, creates practical, affordable solutions that streamline essential tasks, and complements these solutions with educational content and actionable guidance. From hiring and training, to time tracking and record-keeping, to labor law posting and tax information reporting, ComplyRight’s innovative products and services address the real-world challenges employers face every day.