In the last 12 months, we saw a paradigm shift in the way organizations operate globally. Remote work – a term that was once a part of many perks companies promised, became the new normal in no time. While the world was gradually warming up to the remote work model, the 2020 pandemic forced the immediate acceptance of that culture.
The concept of remote work is not new to the organizations worldwide. With constant technological innovations and digitization of businesses, many companies have opted to either hire employees who work from a remote location, often a different country, or set up remote teams in certain countries. However, employing remote workers or setting up remote teams come with many legal challenges. Therefore, it is important to know those legal pitfalls before you formalise your remote work policy.
A strong work policy not only helps in keeping employees disciplined and in sync with the company’s culture, it also saves you from landing into legal troubles. Similarly, companies need to have remote work policies for the smooth functioning of their employees.
Here are a few points one should be careful of while formalising the remote work policy:
Companies often forget about their remote employees, leading to non-compliant management and legal trouble. For example, if you have a working mother working remotely for your company, she may need support, flexibility, and time-off to look after her children. If you’re not extending the support as you would do for your in-office staff, it can lead to a case of sexual discrimination.
Similarly, if you have an employee with a disability who needs to work from their reasonable accommodation under ADA, you need to provide appropriate support to them. Ignoring such employees means you can face a disability discrimination lawsuit. So, it is essential to have a remote work policy in place to support these employees.
When your employees are in the office, you take care of the work environment and ensure it is safe for them to work. Similarly, when employees are working remotely, you need to review their work environment and issue approval only when you find it safe. Remember, if they are hurt although working remotely, the onus lies with you, and you may face legal consequences for ignoring your responsibilities.
When employees work remotely, all communication and information exchange occur in a decentralized environment. This means sensitive data and information exchange happen over wireless networks. Thus, privacy and data security should be the topmost concern of your company. Ensure that everyone, including your remote employees, knows your privacy and security policy and follows them. Have a strong Information Security team to enforce the policy across the organization. It is a good idea to have your remote employees use a virtual private network or VPN, which can keep their web browsing secure. Additionally, ensure data on personal computers are protected by encrypting hard drives. Have strict measures in place so that everyone follows them.
Payroll issues can be another potential area for a legal problem, especially if you have remote employees working in multiple states or countries. Ensure you are following the minimum wage requirement to avoid any legal consequences. Check with your payroll department or your payroll provider to ensure you comply with the laws. Know details about payroll deductions, payroll tax calculation, overtime calculation, payday frequency requirements, etc.
If you’re hiring employees from a different country, ensure you adhere to the local labor laws and determine if you need to register in that country to avoid any legal troubles later. If you don’t have an HR department, it is a great idea to work with a professional employer organization (PEO) or an Employer of Record (EOR) familiar with the local employment and labor laws.
Another issue that you should address in your remote work policy is what is expected of a remote employee if he/she ends up working when the office is closed due to some reason. If an employee has worked during this period, he/she must be paid for the hours they have invested. So, make it a point to clearly spell out what is expected of the employees in a similar situation.
Be mindful of the language you are using while hiring or interviewing a candidate for a remote position. Watch out for the usage of words as it might be offensive for a certain section of people. For example, in Massachusetts employers need to state the compensation figures upfront when hiring. Asking employees about previous salaries can also bring in legal trouble for you.
Additionally, you shouldn’t be asking questions regarding sex, caste, family status, pregnancy, country or origin of birth, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation or religion. Ensure the interviewers are aware of these elements to avoid any legal troubles.
Most countries need to reimburse employees for certain amenities that they need to use for work. The law differs from one country to another, so consider the country’s law where your employee resides. For example, in Germany and France, employers typically need to reimburse the home office set-up and maintenance costs like internet access or access to certain tools. Again, in countries like Switzerland, employers may even need to contribute towards the employee’s house cost if the employee needs to work from home in the absence of any suitable workplace.
While remote working came as a response to the pandemic, employers consider remote working to bring in flexibility, attract top talent, and manage operational costs. Remember, remote hiring is a long-term strategy and can be a win-win situation for all with careful planning. Knowing about these scenarios and how to avoid them will keep you out of any unwanted lawsuits.