Businesses should set out expectations for working remotely
Many employers and workers are settling into their new norm of social distancing and, if possible, remote working.
While it is critical that employers offer as much flexibility as possible to their workers, companies should set out in writing expectations around the temporary telework arrangement.
David Fram with the National Employment Law Institute said employers should advise temporary teleworkers that this is an interim arrangement. Employers should tell workers that “We understand that you might not be able to perform all of your job’s essential functions during this temporary period because you will be working remotely.”
This type of notice will protect employers from claims that on-site attendance is not an essential function of the job when employees return to work.
Agreements should include the following:
1. Good faith efforts: Advise employees that the arrangement requires the coordination and good faith efforts of the employee and the company in order to be successful.
2. The arrangement can be changed at any time: Remind employees that the telework arrangement can be changed or altered at any time for any reason. It should state: “Requiring the associate to come into the office does not change the job, nor does it constitute constructive discharge. The associate must at all times be flexible and able to return to the workplace at any time without notice.”
3. Equipment: Make it clear that equipment provided by the company is to be used for business purposes only. The employee should sign a document spelling out which company property is being used and agree to take action to protect the property.
4. Confidentiality of work: Telework employees should ensure the protection of proprietary company and customer information accessible from their home office.
5. Policy compliance: Those with a telework arrangement must comply with all applicable company policies, including those contained in the employee handbook and those implemented in addition to the handbook. That would include prohibiting a teleworker from adding a sexually explicit emoji while reviewing a Google document with another employee while both work remotely.
6. Safe work environment: Employees need to designate a specific work area and agree that the work environment is safe and free from known hazards. They also need to be reminded that injuries suffered by the employee while at the home work location that arise during the course of employment while in conjunction with regular work duties may be covered by the company’s workers’ compensation policy.
7. Visitors: These are difficult times because many people have children at home, but in general, visitors during the working time without permission and authorization from the company should be prohibited. The company needs to make clear that it assumes no responsibility or liability for visitors to a telework site.
8. Work schedule: Employees should maintain a work schedule or the agreement should set some standard for working time. The employee should agree to be accessible by phone or email within a reasonable time period during the agreed-upon work schedule. Once set, regular attendance is an essential function of the job.
9. Time: Telework employees who are not exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act will be required to record all hours worked in a manner designated by the company. Entering accurate time for all working time is critical to the success of the telecommuting arrangement.
10. Communication of duties: All employees who telework should be expected to communicate at the beginning of the week with the expected tasks to be accomplished for the week. Progress reports shall be sent daily to management.
11. Child care: Telework is not designed to be a replacement for child care. However, during these unusual circumstances, employers should be as empathetic and flexible as possible.