5/23/2012 12:42 AM

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

With ever-changing technology mixed in with the era of high gas prices, a new world of work has been created..telecommuting.  More and more employees seek to take advantage of the benefits of telecommuting, but it has become a prime hotspot for most employers. Federal and state labor laws apply to telecommuting employees just as they would if they were working on site.  

Here are just a few legal issues employers face and how they can handle them: 

  • Wage and Hour Requirements-To qualify as a telecommuter, an employee must receive pay for work done off site.  Work schedules must be monitored and recorded as if the employee was clocking in and out, same as their onsite counterparts. 
  • Safety-OSHA doesn’t have any regulations governing telework in home offices, but they will conduct inspections of other home-based work sites, such as “home manufacturing operations” if they receive a complaint. 
  • Workers Compensation-Injuries at the employee’s home are covered, but these claims raise the potential for fraudulent reports since there are no witnesses to back these claims. 
  • Disabilities-Questions arise as to whether the employee is capable of performing the essential functions of their job from home.  Will their quality of work and productivity suffer if they are permitted to telecommute? 
  • Discrimination—Issues may be raised as to which employees may have the benefit of telecommuting.  If some employees but not others are allowed to telecommute employers could be faced with a discrimination lawsuit.  Whether or not this can hold up in court, is debatable. 
  • Medical Leave—If FMLA applies to your company, employers must resist requiring employees to telecommute instead of taking medical leave. 
  • Privacy and Confidential Information—How to monitor the employee’s worksite, whether it’s home or computer, draws a fine line between what is private to the employee and employer.  Unauthorized disclosure of company information can be detrimental to both parties. 
  • Tort Liability—Employers are responsible for injuries and damage resulting from the employee’s negligence while on the job at home.  Be sure that your liability insurance policy covers the employee’s home. 
  • Zoning Laws—Common in large cities, many employees are prohibited from conducting business  in an apartment or are required to obtain approval, permits or licenses to work from home. Employers that utilize telecommuting must describe the arrangement clearly. This should include performance, procedures, and production requirements.  Failure to do so will be problematic for the employer.  
If you need insurance assistance in this area, please contact us. At Brooks Waterburn, our professional staff stands by ready to help.


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