Requiring Employees to Work from Home

As a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the feasibility of remote work was tested during the COVID-19 pandemic by businesses and given the high success rate of remote work for certain industries, many of the businesses in such businesses decided to adopt a permanent work-from-home policy.

While businesses decide to adopt a 100% work-from-home policy, given the success of remote work in the last 2.5 years coupled with the looming recession, businesses are keen on reducing real estate costs that come with having offices. Businesses need to keep in mind certain legal obligations while adopting a permanent work-from-home policy for all its employees.

Firstly, businesses need to review their employment agreements and ensure that there is no existing clause which does not allow an employer to unilaterally change the place of work. If, by any chance, the employment agreement states that there should be a mutual decision or a prior agreement for making such a change of workplace, then you should preferably get in touch with our experienced employment attorneys at the Walsh Law Firm LLC to help you with a review of your company’s employment agreement and guidance on ensuring that there is a smooth implementation of your company’s work-from-home policy.

Secondly, businesses need to be aware that while remote work can be a cost-cutting measure, it does not absolve the company from costs related to workers’ compensation insurance and possible work from home equipment or related costs, which need to be reimbursed directly to the employee.

Whether or not an employee works regularly at an employer’s place of business and the area where an employee is domiciled and spends a substantial amount of working time are both relevant factors in determining where an employee’s work is localized. When deciding whether an employee is eligible for workers’ compensation, individual states may use varying criteria. The issue becomes more nuanced when the worker must routinely travel to many states. Remote workers are typically considered locals in the state where they do their actual employment. Given these differences, it’s crucial for businesses to seek advice from employment lawyers learn more about the workers’ compensation laws that apply to employees who work from home.

Expense reimbursement is not mandated by federal law, so companies are not obligated to provide it. However, if an employee’s work-related expenses bring their take-home pay below the federal minimum wage, the Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that the employer cover the difference. Employers are also not allowed to have its workers pay back the company for utilizing company property if doing so would cause them to earn less than the minimum wage or to qualify for overtime pay.

An expense reimbursement policy should be in place even if your business is located in a state where it is not required by law to reimburse employees for any expenses incurred while performing remote work. The best way to manage employees’ claims for reimbursement of expenditures incurred while working remotely is to have a written reimbursement policy in place. If your company has employees working remotely at different states, your company can outline the differences in how it will reimburse the employees’ work from home expenses. Your company might also want to consider offering a remote work reimbursement to all of your employees, whether it’s legally required or not. In the current competitive job market, this is the kind of benefit that can make all the difference in attracting and keeping the best candidates.

Thirdly, businesses should also be aware that anti-discrimination laws shall continue to be applicable to remote workers. When it comes to discrimination protections, remote workers have the same rights as their on-site counterparts. For those with disabilities, for instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act ensures equal treatment of all individuals. To that end, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide the equipment or technology necessary for employees to perform their jobs. In addition, discrimination on the basis of gender, race, color, national origin, or religion is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and must be enforced. Discrimination can still occur even when people aren’t physically present. Keep in mind that sexual harassment and racial discrimination can happen just as frequently and simply over conference calls and emails as it can in person.

Employment laws are complicated. It is understandable that your company would have concerns about implementing a work-from-home policy for all your employees. The best thing you can do for your company is to schedule a case evaluation with our experienced employment attorneys at the Walsh Law Firm LLC if you are in this situation and worried that your company may be violating its employees’ federal or contractual rights.