Telecommuting in the Age of COVID-19

Employer Attorney David Jones

David G. Jones | Shareholder

April 9, 2020

Chrystal Ferber | Associate

April 9, 2020

With the spread of COVID-19, many employers are transitioning their workforce to remote platforms in an effort to comply with “safer at home” orders and prevent the spread of infection. For many employers, the home office presents new challenges to navigate and raises unique issues. To successfully implement telework arrangements, employers should consider the following:

Managing Employees

One of the key issues to assess for a successful telework arrangement is the determination of how to effectively manage telecommuting employees.

Employers should distribute a telecommuting policy that clearly outlines expectations and rules for workers, such as requirements regarding work hours, productivity, and best security practices. Employers should stress that telecommuting be treated as exactly as if employees were reporting to the employer’s physical location.

Non-exempt employees should be instructed to only perform work during their regularly-scheduled workday and to accurately track hours worked and all meal periods. A telecommuting policy should include a copy of the employer’s meal, rest, and overtime policies and non-exempt employees should be reminded not to work unauthorized work time.

Many different technologies exist to allow employers to stay connected with their employees. Whether by phone, e-mail, or other communication programs, a successful telework arrangement depends on open communication lines. Video conferencing software like Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams can keep a workforce united and assist employers in monitoring the successful completion of assignments.

Maintaining Confidential Information

Securing confidential information outside the workplace presents a novel challenge for employers.

Employees should be advised to take all practical steps to secure confidential information, including shredding sensitive documents, shielding family members and roommates from protected files and information, and using secure connections (e.g., avoiding public Wi-Fi and using a virtual private network). Expectations on safeguarding confidential information outside the workplace should be included in the employer’s telecommuting policy.

A reminder that employees must be reimbursed for necessary business expenses, such as a reasonable percentage of costs associated with internet and phone use.

Employee Safety

Employee injury or illness may be compensable under workers’ compensation regardless of whether the injury occurred at an employee’s home office. Employers should stress that employees maintain a dedicated remote work area that is well maintained and safe, and may elect to occasionally conduct virtual safety checks.

Employers should also establish communication guidelines for employees to follow if they become sick or need to care for a family member who has become sick. Employees should also be reminded to immediately report all injuries suffered during remote work hours.

COVID-19 will likely have permanent impacts on every employer’s workplace culture, including the persistence of flexible or remote offices in a post-COVID-19 world. Now is an opportune time to develop telework policies and invest in online office platforms.

Don’t hesitate to contact a member of our Employment Practice Group if you have any questions regarding telework arrangements or any other COVID-19 related question.

David G. Jones and Chrystal Ferber are attorneys in our Employment Practice Group.

This information provides an overview of a specific developing situation. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact or situation.

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