Contributed by: Yuriy Moshes
The dawn of remote work passed a long time ago. Ever since the digital office became possible many companies have utilized a partially virtual workforce. Smartphones and laptops have allowed us to abandon the strictly traditional office environment. In fact, according to a 2018 study by Upwork, 63% of businesses had turned to a virtual workforce by 2018.
COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to remote working conditions for many businesses. This has posed new challenges, not only in terms of management, but also how to remain in compliance with labor laws.
First, businesses need to get acquainted with regulations regarding the employment of remote workers. They must also familiarize themselves with employer rights and responsibilities. For that, they may need to hire a lawyer or schedule a labor law attorney free consultation.
Secondly, companies must create policies that will regulate remote work. Many employers miss this vital step. more than half of those 63% of organizations referred previously don’t have a formal remote work policy.
So, how do you organize a virtual workforce without violating both employee and employer rights?
Labor Law for Remote Employees: What to Consider
The law views remote workers similarly to traditional office employees. You need to get all employee foundational documentation in place to reduce the risks of labor law violations. Then, you must identify all the laws you must abide. It’s worth mentioning that laws can differ depending on the state. In situations where more than one law covers the employee, usually the one that is more generous applies.
Lawful management of your workforce is essential. You can reap the benefits of a remote workplace once you adhere to the labor laws. Here are five things to pay attention to:
Remote Work Policies
The lack of a legally-sound remote work policy puts you at risk of facing significant legal problems. Apart from this, it allows you to set up a working environment that contributes to remote work productivity. Solid policies keep employees on track in a virtual office.
While drafting a remote work policy, you must take into consideration the following aspects:
1. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Violations
Tracking working time is vital for hourly employees because they’re paid based on the amount of hours they work. Additionally, they are eligible for overtime pay. According to the FLSA overtime labor law, you must pay overtime when an hourly employee exceeds 40 working hours per week. However, keep in mind that your state might have its own overtime policy as well.
Remote workers must receive the same support and opportunities for advancement as in-office employees. For example, this applies to employees who are taking care of a child or those who are disabled. The policy should cover their right to promotions, visibility, and training.
3. Working Environment
If an employee is working in the office, the employer takes responsibility for their safety and proper working conditions. The same applies to the remote workforce. The policy should outline expectations for what constitutes an appropriate remote working environment.
One point is crucial to remember: the employer is responsible for their employees’ safety. If a worker gets injured on the job, even while at a remote location, the company may face legal consequences.
4. Data Security
The virtual office increases the focus on security concerns. When working from home, employees use smartphones or laptops, which means that their data is more vulnerable. Consequently, it’s harder to protect and control the dissemination of sensitive company data. Any remote work policy should cover employer rights in terms of data security. It’s advisable to prohibit remote workers from downloading or printing confidential information.
Hour Consideration Policy for Remote Workers
An employer needs to create policies and implement measures to maintain accurate records of the amount of time virtual employees work. This is incredibly important because many employees are paid only by the precise hours they work. Therefore, tracking time accurately is vital for staying compliant and protected.
How do you know if remote employees are actually working and for how long? Keeping track based on trust or employees’ past records is inefficient. It’s advisable to install dedicated software that tracks their time effectively and correctly. You’ll want to invest in a reliable time tracking system that monitors the number of hours they work per day or week.
It’s vital to develop a policy that will state the following: an employee must record all hours worked. Alongside this, it should prohibit off-the-clock work. As for the overtime, an employer can construct a policy that will oblige a worker to get permission before working more than their allotted shift.
It’s vital to develop a policy that will explicitly state that the employee must record all hours worked. The policy should also prohibit off-the-clock work. As for any overtime, an employer can construct a policy that will oblige a worker to get permission before working more than their allotted shift. Overtime work is the second most important aspect when it comes to hour consideration. Employers must pay their hourly employees for every hour they work, including any overtime. Overtime work typically implies a situation when a worker exceeds 40 hours per week.
Keep in mind that an employer has a right to disciple a worker for a policy violation, but may never withhold overtime pay.
Remote Work: Break Time Policy
It’s vital to note that not all states implement break time regulations. Therefore, the first step to determining whether an employer is obliged to provide breaks time or not is to study the law. More specifically, study your state’s meal break laws.
Once an employer knows that they must provide meal and rest periods to employees, they should devise appropriate policies. The policies should state when and for how long workers must take break time. Importantly, an employer must make sure that remote workers are informed and adhere to the policy.
Although one of the benefits of remote working for both employers and employees is flexible working hours, it’s best for everyone to have a firm break time policy. Otherwise, an employer must provide compensation for employees who don’t take their meal breaks.
According to the FLSA, a company must pay for rest breaks of 20 minutes or less. A meal period is unpaid under the following conditions:
- Its duration is 30 minutes minimum.
- An employee is not interrupted.
- An employee is completely relieved of all duties.
Please, keep in mind that some states have additional requirements.
Pay Cuts for Remote Workers
Generally, an employer can decrease hours of both exempt and non-exempt employees at no legal cost. However, that’s not common for salaried workers because they earn the same amount of money regardless of the number of hours they work. Therefore, it simply doesn’t reduce the employer’s costs when they choose to reduce a salaried employee’s hours. Please be aware that employers may not reduce an employee’s pay that falls under certain contractual obligations, such as union members.
The situation is different with non-exempt employees who are paid by the hour. If an employer reduces the number of hours an employee works, they reduce company costs. And according to the law, they can do this. The main thing to consider is that the employee’s monthly earnings mustn’t drop below minimum wage.
Apart from that, an employer must strictly abide by federal labor law overtime regulations and their earnings must be properly calculated. Otherwise, the pay cut won’t result in reduced costs.
In addition, an employer must provide a valid reason for pay cut measures. For example, this applies to COVID-19 pay cuts. They are legal once the worker’s wage isn’t below the required minimum, and an employer informs the workforce before applying new rates or cutting work hours.
A recent example is Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has announced that many employees will be allowed to work remotely. Facebook aims to reduce costs because employee compensation will depend on where they live.
As an employer, you must create a legally sound work-from-home policy that’s clear for your employees. Let your employees know when they need to take their breaks and how they can log their time accurately and effectively. Proper time tracking will ensure that you not only know what employees are up to, but it will also protect you in case of an audit. And, more importantly, your employees will get compensated correctly on payday. Creating a solid work-from-home policy will increase the transparency among you and your staff and will also help them better understand how they’re expected to function from day to day. So, if you’re managing a remote workforce and you haven’t created a policy, now is the best time to start! Speak with your HR specialist or labor law attorney today.
About the Author: Yuriy Moshes is the CEO of Moshes Law and attorney with broad expertise. He has two bachelor’s degrees. Being an experienced expert, he is considered one of the most in-demand specialists in the employment law field. Apart from that, he provides labor law attorney free consultation for everyone who faces discrimination in the workplace.
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