Potential Legal Risks of Telecommuting

Telecommuting offers both employers and employees several benefits. It increases productivity and morale, reduces turnover and is convenient, cost effective and eco-friendly. Before you suggest telecommuting, though, understand the potential legal risks.
  1. Wage and Hour Issues

    The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes strict rules for hourly wages and for overtime pay. Employers could be in hot water if they fail to follow the rules.

    Ensure compliance by:
    • Require telecommuting employees to sign a written agreement that outlines their work day hours and overtime details.
    • Require telecommuting employees to clock in and out with an online or paper time tracker and agree not to answer emails, return phone calls or perform other work-related tasks when they're off the clock.
    • Limit telecommuting to exempt employees who are salaried, earn at least $23,600 per year and perform exempt job duties.

  2. Employee Privacy

    Even though an employee works from home, he or she is still subject to employee monitoring. It ensures employee safety and compliance with company policies.

    Potential telecommuting employees should realize that their email could be monitored to ensure productivity. Likewise, an employer may check internet history, limit time spent on certain websites or block certain websites during work hours. Telecommuting employees may also be required to prove that they use only company-provided technology and an ergonomic office chair.

  3. Confidential Information

    Telecommuting employees must maintain confidentiality. Any breach of privacy could result in a lawsuit for the company and employee.
    Have telecommuting employees sign a nondisclosure agreement that enforces confidentiality. They should understand that they are at risk if they share confidential information about a client, share company secrets or otherwise breach the confidentiality agreement.

    They should also:
      *Log out of their computers or employee accounts when they leave their desk.
      *Use secure Wi-Fi only when working.
      *Receive limited access to confidential information.
      *Not allow anyone to see confidential client files.

  4. Employer Liability

    If a telecommuting employee is injured in his or her home office, uses a company-issued computer to download child porn or sends harassing emails to a co-worker while clocked in, the employer could be liable. Write a policy that addresses these issues as you limit employer liability.

  5. Discrimination

    Be careful that all employees receive the opportunity to telecommute. It can't be a perk given only to young men, mothers or employees of a certain nationality. Employers must also follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and provide reasonable accommodations.
Telecommuting is beneficial for employers and employees, but it does have several legal risks. Make arrangements to address these risks. Your precautions limit liability and protect everyone.
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