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

Justice in the Age of COVID-19

by Todd A. Smith

Pandemic Creates Sea Change in the Delivery of Justice

Two paintings of two people's fingers pointed at each other and almost touching

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

Big Updates in the Big Apple

by Nina M. Roket and Thomas D. Kearns

A Post-COVID-19 update on the commercial market for landlords, building investors and retail developers in New York.

Abstract skyscrapers and buildings in multi-color

Infrastructure Restructure

by David A. Lum

Developers are embracing creativity and ESG to continue their real estate projects amidst a backdrop of inflation, supply chain demands and pipeline issues.

Two figures standing in construction site

Does the Crystal Ball Predict a Fall?

by Kathleen Bernardo

In the post-pandemic climate, economists are making many predictions about what’s to come for the housing market. But one real estate lawyer with decades of experience says that this reset was crucial and not necessarily indicative of the doom and gloom we thought we were facing.

Multi-colored houses with purple backdrop

The Employment Pandemic

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

"Lawyer of the Year"

Texas "Lawyer of the Year" 2022

Charla Truett

Immigration Law

Dallas/Fort Worth, TX


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

Trending Articles

A Celebration of Excellence: The Best Lawyers in Canada 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

As we embark on the 18th edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™, we are excited to highlight excellence and top legal talent across the country.

Abstract image of red and white Canada flag in triangles

The Long, Short, Thick and Thin of It

by Avrohom Gefen

“Appearance discrimination” based on employees’ height and weight is the latest hot-button issue in employment law. Here’s a guide to avoid discrimination.

Woman stands in front of mirror holding suit jacket

Vanguards of Victory: Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada 2024

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada™ has been announced, and the lawyers showcased by these awards are rising to the challenge each day as advocates for clients all across the country.

Blue and black background with small squares connected by lines

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Trailblazing Titans of the Industry: Announcing the 4th Edition Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers honor and celebrate these talented, innovative newer lawyers who are trailblazing their way to victories in courtrooms across the country.

Connected web above map of the U.S.

Pearls of Wisdom: Celebrating 30 Editions of Best Lawyers’ Rankings

by Best Lawyers

In celebration of our landmark 30th edition, Best Lawyers’ leadership explains how the world’s original and most trusted legal awards maintain their esteem, integrity and reputation for excellence among the top legal entities and their clients.

Best Lawyers logo for 30th edition release with gold glitter in background

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots


Thomson Rogers: Toronto Personal Injury Lawyers

by Thomson Rogers

Since establishment in 1935, Toronto-based firm Thomson Rogers has consistently delivered results for their clients struggling through complex litigation.

Top of a Staircase Featuring Two Large Black Doors with Bookshelves and Chairs on Each Side

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag


How Long Does a Felony Stay On Your Record in California

by Peter Blair

A felony can remain on your record for life in California. Some felonies qualify for expungement. Learn how to remove a felony conviction from your record in California.

Hand setting bird free out of a guarded fence

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?

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

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada 2023

by Best Lawyers

The year 2023 marks the second edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada, highlighting professionals earlier in their legal careers all across Canada.

Blue background with white stairs formed out of lines

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2024 Launch

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce The Best Lawyers in Australia™ for 2023, including the top lawyers and law firms from Australia.

Australian Parliament beside water at sunset