HIA reporter

By Christine Malafi

In today’s workplace, a great percentage of employees will request the ability to work from home for one reason or another, be it temporary or not. Having employees work from home is both an opportunity and a challenge for both the employer and the employee. Employers avoid having to find space for the employees to work from, and employees may be more satisfied and committed to their employers for the benefit of working from home.  However, both parties must pay attention to make sure that the “team” spirit and internal workplace dynamics don’t suffer.

It is strongly recommended that employers implement written policies on telecommuting so as to not create policies piecemeal, which can be confusing and risk being deemed discriminatory by employees. Policies should be tailored to the specific needs and abilities of employers. Consistency is the key to avoiding claims of unfairness or discrimination. Policies should address which classification of employees are permitted to telecommute (i.e., full-time or part-time employees) and how long the employee must be employed before a request may be considered (three or six months).

Written policies should also clarify who is responsible for providing the tools and equipment needed for the employee to work from home (if equipment is provided, the policy must mandate its return when employment ends) and who is responsible for maintaining it.  It is also important to consider the security of sensitive information that your employee may be taking from the office or accessing from home.  If the employee’s work includes handling confidential data, the employer should set guidelines about secure Internet access as well as how to store documents and electronics (i.e., in a locked filing cabinet).

Employers permitting or encouraging telecommuting should consider investing in good conferencing technology, as well as paying for travel costs associated with having employees “visit” the physical workplace from time to time.

The importance of accurate recording of all working time is enhanced with telecommuters.  To minimize the risk of wage and hour claims, employers must implement strict guidelines for timekeeping and time reporting for hourly employees working from home.  Keep in mind also that you, as the employer, may be responsible for injuries that occurred at a home workplace; while it is impossible for an employer to completely control the safety of an off-site location, employers may wish to set parameters, such as having the employee designate a limited area of the home for working or to work according to a set schedule.

Unless you are hiring an employee with the specific intent of having him or her work from home, employees requesting permission to work from home should be required to submit a written request to telecommute. Every employee should understand from your written policies that permission to work from home is not guaranteed, and may be withdrawn at any time in the employer’s sole discretion.

Even if you do not have a telecommuting policy or practice in place, and although employers are not legally obligated to allow employees to telecommute, there may be an obligation, if it does not create an undue hardship, to allow an employee to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If you have any questions about your telecommuting policy (or lack thereof), please contact us.