Minimizing Liability in Your Team’s Remote Workplace
- On May 4, 2020
By: Carlin Comerouski
With the widespread issue of COVID-19 “Shelter-in-Place” orders, much of the nation’s workforce has transitioned to a virtual work environment over the past few months. For many employers, this was a sudden (and perhaps unwelcome) shift into unfamiliar territory.
And rightfully so– although telecommuting provides many benefits and opportunities, remote work arrangements also present unique challenges. Legal matters need to be considered differently outside of the context of traditional on-site offices.
So how do you anticipate issues and reduce the likelihood of claims or liability from work-from-home employees? Below are a few strategies:
1) Determine if Telework is the Best Option.
When considering if, or when, to implement remote work arrangements, an employer should balance the potential benefits against the impact on the business. The benefits of implementing a telework policy may change depending on the context (e.g., offering voluntary opportunities for temporary remote work versus mandatory telework due to health or safety concerns for employees, clients, or the general community). Factors to consider when assessing the impact on the business include the nature of the business, the number of employees for whom such an arrangement is viable, and resulting administrative and/or legal compliance burdens.
2) Develop a Remote Work Policy.
It is important to craft a detailed work-from-home policy and to disseminate the policy to all employees. Providing your workforce with clear guidelines is key to managing expectations and maintaining healthy communication. It will prevent misunderstandings and assist with the training of managers and new employees.
In order to ensure your company policy is not interpreted as discriminatory, it needs to clearly outline who is eligible for remote work and when. Specific requirements of teleworking employees should be prescribed (e.g. hours, procedures), as well as the rights offered to them. The policy should further state that virtual workers remain subject to all other company policies.
3) Implement a Cybersecurity Plan.
Work-from-home employees need secure access to company files. VPNs, passwords, network firewalls, anti-virus programs, multi-factor authentication, and encryption are all standard tools that can be used to close security gaps and fight any hacking vulnerability.
Try to minimize the use of personal devices, and require anti-virus installations and other security measures for employees using their own computers, tablets, or phones. Authenticity of all devices connecting to the company network needs to be standardized. In addition, be sure your workforce is aware of trending security risks, including phishing scams and questionable emails.
4) Keep Contact with Employees.
Have a plan to stay in direct contact with remote workers. This will enable you to manage and monitor their success and productivity in the virtual environment. It is important to know how off-site workers are doing – particularly whether they are experiencing difficulties or need assistance. If communication drops off, you’ll never know.
Make available the necessary telecommuting tech tools (e.g., Zoom, Webex) for conference calls and check-ins. Set up recurring calls at established intervals (whether daily, bi-weekly, or the like). Collaboration is vital in the virtual work environment, and maintaining this reality needs to be intentional.
5) Confirm a Safe Work Environment.
Work-from-home employees must have a specific, dedicated workspace free from safety concerns. Special care should be taken to ensure remote employees have ergonomically appropriate equipment. Procedures for reporting issues and maintaining employee contact need to be established. It may be helpful to have your employees fill out a work-from-home safety survey to gather additional information regarding measures that may need to be considered.
6) Remote Work Agreements.
In the event sustained periods of remote working arrangements are necessary, employers should also consider remote work agreements with terms and conditions generally applicable to their employees’ ongoing work arrangements, including but not limited to those relating to insurance and tax obligations.
For more information on remote work policies contact Fletcher & Sippel’s Labor & Employment Group.