Insight

HR should prepare now for continued employee remote work

HR should prepare now for continued employee remote work

Christine Lamb

Christine Lamb

September 30, 2020 01:02 PM

COVID-19 has indelibly changed the way we work. For one thing, it has dramatically increased the number of employees who are now working from home. And we may find that, even after the pandemic eventually subsides, some employees may continue to work remotely, at least part time.

Flexible work arrangements can benefit both employees and employers, but they also are fraught with potential pitfalls. HR departments should take the opportunity now to either revise existing remote workplace policies or develop new ones that address the challenges and potential pitfalls of working from home.

As head of the employment practice at a law firm, these are a few of the key areas of concern I see most prominently today.

Deciding who gets to work from home

Among the many uncertainties facing employers is whether they even have to allow their employees the opportunity to work remotely. The answer depends on whether the businesses are considered “essential” under the Colorado Amended Public Health Order.

Employers of such businesses deemed essential can still require that employees show up for work as long as they are taking appropriate measures to ensure their workplaces are in compliance with any physical distancing requirements and the businesses are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

For employers of businesses not deemed essential but subject to shelter-in-place orders, the requirements are different. Although they may not be able to require employees to physically report to work, employers still can require that certain employees telework, provided they have the tools and equipment needed to perform the job.

If an employee is unable to work or telework for certain coronavirus-related reasons, including that the person has been advised to self-quarantine or is caring for a child whose school is closed, employers are required to provide them 80 hours of paid leave. It’s capped at $511 per week or $200 per week depending on the reason for the leave. The cost of providing such paid leave is fully reimbursable through an immediate payroll tax credit.

Monitoring remote employees

For organizations with employees working at home, one of the foremost concerns might be monitoring the amount of work they’re receiving. Certainly, employers can and should implement timekeeping policies for nonexempt employees and require that they accurately record all time worked.

Employers also can establish a set schedule of work time that includes breaks and meal periods. Although employers shouldn’t try to require cameras or other monitoring devices in an employee’s home, they certainly can require levels of productivity or production metrics. And, they can coach, counsel, discipline or terminate employees who do not meet productivity requirements.

Also, some employers may be able to monitor the amount of time employees spend working through time-tracking software programs that include digital clock-punching features, such as Hubstaff or TSheets.

Reimbursing remote employee expenses

An employer’s obligation to reimburse employee expenses often is unclear in the best of circumstances while in the office. However, when employees are required to work from home, the issue becomes hazier. For example, employers might wonder about the need to pay for the homebound employees’ internet or phone service, even though that’s typically something employees already have and pay for.

Like so many other issues affecting employees working at home, answers to these and other questions depend on a host of factors. For example, most states, including Colorado, do not have specific laws requiring employers to reimburse employees’ expenses. However, some states, such as California and Montana, do have such laws and require that employers to reimburse employees for certain expenses.

Employers should review their expense-reimbursement policies and revise them as needed in light of what’s happening with COVID-19. For some employees, the business expenses required in order to effectively work remotely, if not reimbursed, may cause a significant decrease in overall compensation. Of course, employers can never require employees to bear their business expenses to such a degree that it would reduce their overall pay below minimum wage.

Providing remote workers’ comp

It’s also important for employers to understand that remote workers are covered by workers’ compensation. Employees can claim workers compensation for injuries that arise out of and in the course of employment regardless of where the injury occurs.

Generally, an employer’s lack of control over an employee’s work-from-home environment is not a defense. Employers can mitigate the risks of a workers’ comp claim arising out of a remote workplace by implementing a remote-work policy containing guidelines and requirements for working from home.

Developing remote work policies

When it comes to policies for working at home, this may be new territory for some companies. But with untold numbers working from home now out of necessity, it should be clear that a good remote work policy is crucial for any company trying to exist and compete in challenging times like these. Even companies that have such policies already may need to revise them to address the enormous increase in employees working from home.

An effective remote work policy should address issues including eligibility, equipment, expenses, safety, security, work hours and communication. Additionally, employers also may want to require that employees sign a remote work agreement so that expectations are clearly understood and agreed to by all.

One day, hopefully soon, more workers will return to offices, factories, restaurants and a thousand other places they filled just a few short months ago. But many workers won’t — and will, instead, remain working from home. To grapple with this new future reality, HR leaders should begin preparing now.

Related Articles

Employment Entanglements


by Justin Smulison

As the United States approaches its third summer against the backdrop of the coronavirus, employers and employees still find themselves in a Gordian Knot of interconnected labor and employment challenges, with no clear way to untangle them all.

Post-Pandemic Employment Challenges Persist

Legal Trends in the Modern Workplace


by Emma R. Schuering and Meghan H. Hanson

Employees are reevaluating their jobs and the workforce, including issues like pay equity, forced arbitration, paid time off, discrimination and other such policies as they continue to navigate a post-pandemic work life.

Legal Trends In the Workplace Post-Pandemic

Navigating the New Normal


by Jody E. Briandi

The pandemic has upended many law firms’ internal culture and their lawyers’ work habits, in many ways for the better. As we approach 2022, how can we consolidate those positive effects to transform the practice of law (and our personal lives) for the better?

Work Habits Affected by the Pandemic

How I Adapt to Working From Home


by Alexandria Hurst

With the pandemic still ongoing with no end in sight, one lawyer writes about how she stays sane working from home.

Working From Home

The Employment Endemic


by Meredith Caiafa and Sarah Greene

The pandemic has had far-reaching effects on employment law since it officially took hold in 2020, but the litigation and lawmaking surrounding it are mutating faster than the variants. Here’s how lawmakers and businesses can keep up.

Employment Law During COVID-19

Measuring Success by Results


by John Fields

Recognized Best Lawyers®* recipient Joseph F. Brophy on how his Firm determines success.

Measuring Firm Success

Texas "Lawyer of the Year" 2022


by Best Lawyers

Charla Truett is honored as 2022 "Lawyer of the Year" in Texas for Immigration Law.

Texas "Lawyer of the Year" 2022

Hybrid Work: Coping with Compliance Consequences


by Gregory Sirico

Communications platforms like Webex by Cisco, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are more popular than ever in the age of hybrid work, but are firms risking compliance for convenience?

Compliances Issues with Hybrid Work

Remote Controls


by Cynthia Morgan Ohlenforst

How law firms, lawyers and taxing authorities must adapt to remote work

Law Firms Adapt to Remote Work

Changes and Challenges


by Megan Norris

As the pandemic ebbs and many people return to the office, midsize law firms in particular must navigate a host of unprecedented questions about costs, culture and client expectations.

Changes, Challenges and Cost of the Pandemic

Forging Bonds, Building Business


by Crystal L. Howard and Lizl Leonardo

As disorienting and occasionally frightening as the pandemic has been, it has also forced lawyers to find innovative new ways to stay connected and do business.

Pandemic Sparks Innovative Ways of Conducting

Announcing the 7th Annual Women in the Law Publication


by Best Lawyers

The 7th Annual Women in the Law publication is a celebration of all the female legal talent across the country, honoring every woman listed in The Best Lawyers in America and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America.

Honoring Female Lawyers in the United States

Staunch Competition


by Andrea E. Nieto, Catherine H. Molloy and Jennifer W. Corinis

On the other side of the pandemic, after record numbers of employee resignation, protecting trade secrets is both challenging and being challenged.

Protecting Trade Secrets During Period of Res

Courtroom Mastery


by Justin Smulison

Victor H. Pribanic recalled the excitement of returning to the courtroom in late 2021 for a medical negligence case that could help set a new course for Pribanic & Pribanic’s trial advocacy.

Victor H. Pribanic Makes Return to Courtroom

Think Globally, Act Safely


by Michael Winkleman

As the pandemic (fitfully) recedes at last, is it once again safe to travel internationally? It is—if you take a few common-sense steps ahead of time.

International & Cruise Travel After COVID-19

There’s Hope for the Canadian Real Estate Market Post COVID-19


by Steven Tulman

Clover Mortgage offers advice and predictions on the Toronto real estate market as we move on post-pandemic.

Canadian Real Estate Market Post COVID-19

Trending Articles

The Real Camille: An Interview with Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Camille Vasquez


by Rebecca Blackwell

Camille Vasquez, a young lawyer at Brown Rudnick, sat down with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer to talk about her distinguished career, recently being named partner and what comes next for her.

Camille Vasquez in office

Announcing The Best Lawyers in The United Kingdom™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from the United Kingdom.

The Best Lawyers in The United Kingdom 2023

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: The Best Lawyers Honorees Behind the Litigation


by Gregory Sirico

Best Lawyers takes a look at the recognized legal talent representing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in their ongoing defamation trial.

Lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Announcing The Best Lawyers in France™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from France.

Blue, white and red strips

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes

Education by Trial: Cultivating Legal Expertise in the Courtroom


by Margo Pierce

The intricacies of complex lawsuits require extensive knowledge of the legal precedent. But they also demand a high level of skill in every discipline needed to succeed at trial, such as analyzing technical reports and deposing expert witnesses.

Cultivating Legal Expertise in the Courtroom

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Belgium™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Belgium.

Black, yellow and red stripes

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in France


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms, including our inaugural Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch recipients.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in France

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect


by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

We Are Women, We Are Fearless


by Deborah S. Chang and Justin Smulison

Athea Trial Lawyers is a female owned and operated law firm specializing in civil litigation, catastrophic energy, wrongful death and product liability.

Athea Trial Law Female Leadership and Success

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Germany


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms, including our inaugural Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch recipients.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Germany

U.K. Introduces Revisions to Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules


by Gregory Sirico

Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules in

Destiny Fulfilled


by Sara Collin

Was Angela Reddock-Wright destined to become a lawyer? It sure seems that way. Yet her path was circuitous. This accomplished employment attorney, turned mediator, arbitrator and ADR specialist nonpareil discusses her career, the role of attorneys in society, the new world of post-pandemic work and why new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson represents the future.

Interview with Lawyer Angela Reddock-Wright

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some


by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom


by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?