The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to a situation where a large number of employers are encouraging employees to work from the safety of their homes, provided the nature of the job allows for working remotely.
Since this is a completely new work arrangement for many, and it is critical to understand the legal aspects that must be considered while going ahead with this system for as long as the situation demands.
Work-from-Home Policies must Not be Non-Discriminatory
When implementing flexible work hours or work-from-home policies in view of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s paramount to ensure that the policies are administered in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner. If some workers are not given an opportunity to operate remotely, the employer should have legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons to justify that decision.
When implementing new workplace rules or work-from-home policies specifically because of the unique risks posed by the prevailing coronavirus situation, employers should communicate clearly to the employees that telework is required because of the extraordinary conditions that have arisen due to the current public safety and health circumstances.
Make Prudent Choices while Monitoring Employee Communications and Work Performance
In the changed circumstances where the employee is working from home but the employer wants to evaluate their work performance and productivity, they may need to monitor their communication. When doing so, they should ensure that their methods are in sync with the organization’s established policies and federal laws.
An employer can usually monitor the work email communication of its employees as long as they have a clear business purpose for doing so. At the same time, the employees should be aware of the monitoring, and should not expect privacy when they are using the official email system for communication.
Employers should be sensitive to the situation of new work-from-home employees who may have a dedicated workspace at home as they may struggle to maintain deadlines or performance because of distractions and disruption of their regular work (for instance, a child interrupting the parent during a business phone call).
Non-Exempt Employees Can be Asked to Maintain Timekeeping
To ensure that non-exempt employees are being paid for the correct amount of remote work time, employers will likely require them to accurately maintain the records.
Irrespective of what time of the day or night the employee has put in the work hours while operating from home, it should be included in their paid work time. This also includes the time the employee may spend in responding to work-related emails or phone calls from home.
If the usual time-tracking software programs cannot be practically set up at home, employers should allow the employee to manually record their daily working time on an Excel or Google Docs or similar file (that can be reviewed by the employer). Employers should communicate to their employees clearly about timekeeping policies and explain to them how to track their number of hours worked.
Overtime Rules Apply to Work-from-Home Employees
Employers must make sure that they are paying non-exempt employees for all the hours they have worked from home. This includes overtime just the way it does in regular work-from-office situations. Employers may restrict their employees from working overtime, but they cannot avoid overtime compensation if they have required them to work extra.
Employers should know that meal breaks and rest breaks for non-exempt employees will be applicable even when their employees are working from home. Employees should also record any unpaid meal breaks.
Provide Work-from-Home Resources and Reimburse Expenses
In order for employees to perform effectively from home just as they were doing in office, employers should provide support in terms of basic infrastructure and resources, such as computer, phone, video conferencing equipment or software, and other management or secretarial tools.
Employees may seek reimbursement for the use of phone, internet, and electricity costs that can be attributed to work use. Any repair or upgrading of their personal computer or other equipment, which is being used for work purposes, may also qualify for reimbursement.
Other key legal issues to consider in the current coronavirus pandemic situation for work-from-home employees may include occupational safety and health, disability accommodation, sick pay, and insurance coverage.
Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced Employment Law Attorney
Has the prevailing COVID-19 situation affected your work situation? Are you working from home now, but you are not sure that your employer is following all of the required legal guidelines? If you believe laws have been violated during your transition to working remotely, attorney Kira Fonteneau is here to help. Message us online or call our office today at (205) 564-9005 to schedule a free consultation.